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What Will Happen If All the Ice Melts?

VO: Ashley Bowman WRITTEN BY: Spencer Sher
Climate change, global warming and the general state of the planet. Environmental issues are a major concern in the 21st century, but what if the worst really did happen? What if all the ice melted? How would sea levels be affected? How would international temperatures change? What impact would it have on our daily lives?

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What If All The World’s Ice Melted?

100 years. That’s how long some scientists estimate the earth has left, before large parts of it become inhospitable due to climate change.Thanks to mass deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels, humanity has seemingly screwed up its only home.

With our recent levels of carbon emissions going through the proverbial roof and into the earth’s actual atmosphere, the planet has significantly heated up, causing our polar regions to steadily (or in some cases rather rapidly) melt. Which is pretty bad news for us.

When ice melts sea levels rise, prompting widespread and devastating global effects. According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by 2100 sea levels could rise by as much as 96 centimeters. Which might not immediately sound all that much, but were it to occur then many of the cities on America’s eastern seaboard would be turned into swamps. Others claim that water levels could rise by as much as 7 meters; enough to turn London into a real-world Atlantis. But don’t start running for the hills just yet. Because National Geographic estimates that it could take up to 5,000 years for every single bit of ice on earth to disappear.There might yet still be time.

But what if there isn’t? What if all the estimates were proven wrong, and one day humanity woke up to discover that the planet’s polar caps were gone? What would the earth look like? And what would life be like?

For starters, the end of ice completely would see global sea levels increase by over 220 feet, creating unrecognizable coastlines for all seven continents. In the US alone, cities such as San Diego, Seattle, New York, Boston and Miami would be completely submerged. In fact, the entire state of Florida would be wiped clean off the map.

Europe would lose Istanbul, Venice, Barcelona, London and Copenhagen, to name just a few. In Asia, Bangladesh – a country of over 160 million people – would be flooded. As would densely populated cities like Shanghai, Mumbai and Bangkok. In South America the Amazon and Paraguay Basins would become sprawling inlets of the Atlantic Ocean.

Australia would be amongst the hardest places hit, given that around 80% of its population lives on or near the coastline. But the dry and dusty central regions of this vast and sweeping nation would gain a massive inland sea, if that’s any consolation? In terms of rising water levels, most African countries would be a little less affected, but as we’ll explain shortly, the dangers don’t end there!

One teeny tiny bright side might be that Antarctica would become an archipelago, developing into a new land mass that would likely be livable – at least compared to the harsh and extreme environment that Earth’s most southerly continent poses today. Future humans would surely look to colonize here – not only because of the cooler climate, but because who wouldn’t want to own a cottage (or maybe even a farm) in Antarctica?

Roughly 40% of the earth’s current population, however, lives within 100 kilometers of the coast. So a hypothetical sudden – or overnight – surge in sea levels would quickly kill incredible numbers of people. But anyone who isn’t dead would need somewhere to go. So, where?

Naturally, we’d all probably flee to higher altitude, landlocked areas. But that’s easier said than done. Never-before-seen numbers of refugees would be irreversibly displaced, and heading into foreign countries in desperate need of basic resources like food, shelter and freshwater. The unprecedented upheaval could completely transform national identities, borders, customs and histories within just a few generations. If the human race even makes it that far. Because no government on earth would boast the immediate resources, infrastructure or manpower to handle such a massive influx of people. Especially because even the countries and cities that the sea hasn’t claimed would be dealing with their own wide-ranging environmental, social and political
problems. And so, anarchy could rule – at least at first – with millions of people going it alone, desperately striving to survive.

With humanity in disarray the global economy would quickly collapse, and war would inevitably ensue, as nations – or even smaller communities – turn on each other in an effort to secure what’s left of the earth’s resources. And while this may sound like the lead up to another “Mad Max” movie, the reality would be less ‘Charlize Theron kicking ass’ and more ‘you just got drafted at the age of 13’.

However, if there’s one post-apocalyptic movie trope that has some chance of actually happening, it’s the idea that money would lose all value; and that the world would revert back to a system of bartering for necessary resources. So, you’d be wise to start stockpiling buttons, bits of string, anything made of leather and anything that’s even a little bit shiny. Just sayin’.

Of course, us humans aren’t the only ones who’d be in trouble were the world’s ice to melt. Most earthly animals would straight-up go extinct, and that perhaps surprisingly includes many marine species. Given that the melting ice caps would deposit into our existing oceans, the transition could cause worldwide currents to change direction – wreaking havoc on established habitats. Speedy evolution could save some creatures, but most would perish or have to permanently migrate –avoiding humans at all times, for fear that they could be hunted for a makeshift meal.

And habitat destruction is just the beginning, as the change in sea current would also have a dramatic effect on the weather. First the average global temperature would rise to around 26 degrees Celsius – putting those African nations and other equatorial countries at particular risk. However, heavy rainfall would hit even typically dry regions, thanks to accelerated cloud formation over the larger seas. That said, changing wind directions, atmospheric conditions and moisture levels could also see previously wet areas dry out. One-time rich soils may no longer yield crops, meaning whole agricultural industries could change – or disappear – triggering definite food shortages and possible famine. Plus, with more of the planet covered in water than ever before, storm surges, hurricanes and typhoons would be bigger, harsher and even more destructive.

All things considered, the continued presence of ice is pretty important when it comes to our survival. That’s not to say that humans couldn’t live in a world without ice, but it wouldn’t be very fun at all. Think “Waterworld”, but instead of battling pirates for oceanic supremacy with Kevin Costner, it would just be you pitching a tent on any available square-meter of free land, hopelessly remembering the home you used to have.

Thankfully, the polar ice caps melting is just a fun, consequence-free and hypothetical scenario… Not, like, you know, an actual possibility or anything… Oh, wait…

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