Polar ice sheets melting faster than ever

Ice breakers: The Antarctic ice sheet covers an area larger than the US and Mexico combined. © Alamy

Are melting ice caps our most urgent problem? With ice in Antarctica and Greenland melting faster than ever before, scientists warn of catastrophic consequences if we do not act quickly.

What’s happening

New research shows polar ice caps are melting six times faster than they did during the 1990s. As more melted ice flows into oceans, global sea levels rise. If the rate at which ice melts continues to accelerate, scientists predict 400 million people could be affected by coastal flooding by 2100.

Find out more

The global average temperature has risen by 1C over the past century, and it is this global warming that is responsible for the melting ice caps. Experts have calculated that ice sheets in Greenland lost 3.8 trillion tons of ice between 1992 and 2019, enough to raise global sea levels by 1.6cm.

Rising sea levels are one of the most damaging long-term impacts of the climate crisis and affect entire countries. If contributions from the ice caps continue to escalate, Bangladesh could lose 11% of its low-lying land in the Ganges Delta by 2050, making 15 million people homeless. Experts tell us we can slow down this trend by reducing carbon emissions, but only if we take meaningful action now.

Are melting ice caps our most urgent problem?

Some say…

Yes, we must act immediately. Countries signing the Paris Agreement pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050, but this can sometimes mean simply offsetting carbon emissions. To prevent more ice melting and save communities from flooding, individuals, companies, and governments must drastically change the way they work to make a real difference.

Others think…

By putting everything on hold to fix this problem, economies will stop growing. While this may be possible in Europe and America, it would be far more damaging to less economically developed countries. In parts of the world suffering from widespread poverty, economic growth is the key priority. Making money is the best way to help people in need.

You Decide

  1. Is it too late to prevent the climate crisis?

Activities

  1. Make a poster telling people about rising sea levels and how we can work together to reduce global warming.

Some People Say...

“Act as though the house is on fire, because it is.”

Greta Thunberg, 17-year-old activist

What do you think?

Word Watch

Century
A period of one hundred years.
Global warming
A gradual increase in the overall temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere. It is caused by the greenhouse effect as a result of increased levels of carbon emissions.
Ganges Delta
Deltas found at the mouth of large rivers – for example, the Ganges which flows through India and Bangladesh. A delta is formed when the river deposits its material faster than the sea can remove it. There are three main types of delta, named after the shape they create.
Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations, signed by 195 countries, that aims to reduce carbon emissions.
Offsetting
A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide, or other greenhouse gases, made in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. For example, an individual might purchase carbon offsets to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions caused by flying in a plane.

Subjects

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.