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The potential for rapid deglaciation, or collapse, of the 2-million-square-kilometer West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) in response to climate change is one of the most serious environmental threats facing mankind. The WAIS is a marine ice sheet with large parts of its ice grounded below sea level. Complete collapse would result in a global sea level rise of approximately 5 meters, with immense social, economic, and ecological consequences.

While most experts consider such a collapse unlikely within the next few centuries, the Amundsen Sea sector has been identified as the most likely site for initiation of collapse, and it alone contains the potential to raise sea level by approximately 1.5 meters [Vaughan, 2007]. This would result in devastating flooding in many low-lying cities (e.g., New Orleans, London), agricultural areas (e.g., Netherlands, Bangladesh) and atolls (e.g., Maldives).