US Cities Under 12 Feet Of Water: Rising Sea Levels Turn US Into Venetian Waterland — Eventually

By Matthew Mientka on May 18, 2014 2:51 PM EDT

New predictions forecast an even more dire rising of sea levels during the centuries ahead as parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet enter an
New predictions forecast an even more dire rising of sea levels during the centuries ahead as parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet enter an "unstoppable" process of retreat. Photo courtesy of Suma, CC BY 2.0.

A growing sense of the inevitability of global warming has become a bit of a parlor game for world citizens from New York City to the south of France, where rising sea levels will someday bury coastal human settlements.

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Drawing on data collected by climate researchers, Pittsburgh-based artist Nickolay Lamm this month published a series of terrifyingly beautiful depictions of U.S. cities turned into Venetian waterworlds. The photographs depict a submerged Ocean Drive in Miami, where revelers once cruised the summer streets, as well as submerged versions of Candlestick Park in San Francisco and the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Those chilling scenarios are the final result of the melting of part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which scientists now say has entered an "unstoppable" process of retreat. A pair of new studies published this week predict sea levels will rise by 12 feet in as little as two centuries and almost certainly within a millenium. More immediately, the sea will rise by four feet during the next several decades.

"It has passed the point of no return," says Eric Rignot, a glaciologist affiliated with the University of California at Irvine and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Rignot led a NASA study published this week in the journal Science, following a similar paper from the University of Washington appearing in Geophysical Research Letters. Both research teams observed the retreating of ice from four West Antarctica glaciers, including Pine Island, Thwaites, Smith, and Kohler. The glaciers there alone contain enough water to raise sea levels around the globe by several feet.

"Scientists have been warning of its collapse, based on theories, but with few firm predictions or timelines," NASA researchers said in a press statement. Now, however, the date for global climate change has been set.

Likewise, NASA researcher Tom Wagner, a cryosphere program specialist, says scientists have predicted the eventual collapse of the West Antarctic glaciers since the 1970s, but until now have been unable to determine the pacing.

"That idea that this is unstoppable has been around since the 1970s," Wagner told The Washington Post. "We've finally hit this point where we have enough observation to put this together" and say it is happening.

The studies released this week support opinions by some climate change researchers critical of previous assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as too conservative.

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