The worst-case climate scenario for coastal cities is known as a “pulse.”
In that situation, abnormally warm water could cause the glaciers that hold back ice sheets on top of Antarctica and Greenland to collapse. That would cause massive quantities of ice to pour into the world’s oceans, which could lead to extremely rapid sea-level rise around the world.
If such a scenario were to occur, current sea-level rise predictions for vulnerable cities like Miamiwould be far too low.
Right now, scientists predict Miami will likely be surrounded by seas up to 7 or 8 feet higher than they were in 1900 by the end of this century. But in the case of a pulse, some experts think South Florida could see 10 to 30 feet of sea-level rise by 2100.
Models predict that amount of rise could also be accompanied by superstorms.
Conditions that might mark the start of such a scenario seem to already be underway in Antarctica, according to a recent study published in the journal Science Advances.
The researchers behind the work found that in at least two Antarctic regions where there’s been notable ice loss, glaciers are melting fast enough to counteract a process that would normally keep the waters under the Antarctic cool. And where warm water collects, faster melting happens.
“Our study shows that this feedback process is not only possible but is in fact already underway, and may drive further acceleration of the rate of sea-level rise in the future,” Alessandro Silvano, lead author of the study, said in a statement.
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