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May 30, 2014

RONN MOTT: The dangers of a melting shelf

TERRE HAUTE — According to the scientists who study and know about these things, the west Antarctic ice sheet is melting faster than expected, and the resulting rise in sea levels will change the globe in all parts of the world.

This startling news, reported in the New York Times, points to a potential sea level rise of up to 10 feet or more in the coming years.

The small country of Bangladesh has reason for concern. Any small change in climate, as in too much snow melt in the Himalayas and water gushing down the mountain into the sea, or too much rain during a monsoon, could flood 10 percent of this small, Asian country. But the rising sea levels from the melting ice in Antarctica would most likely cover 40 percent of the land of Bangladesh.

Now, we know the world is not terribly concerned about Bangladesh. It may be in existence because Pakistan cannot manage what it has and doesn’t need the problems of Bangladesh. But Bangladesh is only an example of what lies ahead.

Almost every major sea port in every major country, including New York City, Charleston, Savannah, Miami Beach, London and Calcutta, could disappear under the rising waters of the oceans. The problem seems to be the Antarctic Ocean currents are getting warmer water under the coastal glaciers that form the outer boundaries of this ice sheet.

Because it is not hooked into the sea bed, the glaciers will melt quicker allowing, chunks of the 60,000 square-mile ice sheet to become an unwanted part of the ocean. This will add millions of gallons of fresh water to the world’s oceans.

According to Thomas Wagner, who oversaw part of the research for NASA (looking down from satellites), this is not hypothetical. This is really happening, and there is nothing to stop it.

This is not new. When the ice caps of the last glaciers melted, at roughly 10,000 B.C., more than 200 cities and towns were covered by the Mediterranean Sea, which grew to a huge dimension from where it had started. Archaeologists would love to study the history of all of those cities and towns that were covered by water because it would tell us about so many things we do not know about our early history.

There are islands in the Pacific being covered already by the rising ocean. Miami Beach, at specific tide levels, has its streets covered with water on certain days of the week.

The famous subway system on the island of Manhattan would go first. Some of our famous beach city resorts would not be sustained as a cities. It is going to be a huge mess.

I don’t know about the Great Lakes, but if they would fill up, all of the river valleys of North America would certainly be in some danger. The Wabash Valley might be easily defined because it would be full of water rushing to an already drowned New Orleans. Of course, the Ohio and Mississippi would do the same.

Only those in government could activate changes that could keep a large percentage of the country dry. I would not expect that to occur because Congress can’t look beyond the next election and, of course, the squabbles that come with it.

It could be quite a few years before the scenario plays out. In the meantime, get your grandchildren to build very large boats, similar to what was done in the past. You might also make sure everybody can swim.

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.

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