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The ongoing rise in greenhouse gas emissions may trigger a rapid, irreversible collapse in an Antarctic ice sheet the size of Mexico, with potentially catastrophic consequences, a study published last week in the journal Nature found.
Extreme temperatures linked to climate change can be expected to cause a significant increase in the number of premature deaths, according to a report released Monday by the Obama administration.
A new report nearly doubles previous predictions for sea level rise if global emissions continue unabated, portending a doomsday scenario for many of the world’s coastal cities.

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Last year, scientists discovered that the great ice sheet of West Antarctica had destabilized, causing the start of a 10 foot rise in sea level. Now, a huge glacier in East Antarctica is suffering the same fate, and could add yet another 10 feet to the sea level rise.

The findings were just published online in the journal Nature Geoscience. An international research team collected data during flights over the Totten Glacier in East Antarctica, which a Washington Post article points out is “the fastest-thinning sector of the world’s largest ice sheet.” The researchers concluded that the glacier is retreating because warm ocean water is managing to get underneath it. One three-mile-wide canyon in the Totten Glacier area was found to lie above this warmer ocean water, not over land as was previously thought. “The idea of warm ocean water eroding the ice in West Antarctica, what we’re finding is that may well be applicable in East Antarctica as well,” said co-author Martin Siegert. The exact temperature of the ocean water has not yet been determined, but based on observations and other evidence, scientists are certain there is a great risk of glacial collapse. At the very least, the glacier is confirmed to be retreating. What most alarms scientists about the instability of the Totten Glacier is that it currently holds back an even larger amount of ice, which, if the glacier gives way, could fall into the sea and cause more than an 11 foot rise in sea levels. Lead study author Jamin Greenbaum calls that “a conservative lower limit.” Sea levels will rise slowly, however, over perhaps hundreds of years. As Chris Mooney of the Washington Post explains, “The problem, then, is more the world we’re leaving to our children and grandchildren – because once such a gigantic geophysical process begins, it’s hard to see how it comes to a halt.”

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