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glaciers

A map of the United States post land-ice melt.




Land ice: We got a lot of it.

Considering the two largest ice sheets on earth — the one on Antarctica and the one on Greenland — extend more than 6 million square miles combined ... yeah, we're talkin' a lot of ice.

But what if it was all just ... gone? Not like gone gone, but melted?


If all of earth's land ice melted, it would be nothing short of disastrous.

And that's putting it lightly.

This video by Business Insider Science (seen below) depicts exactly what our coastlines would look like if all the land ice melted. And spoiler alert: It isn't great.

Lots of European cities like, Brussels and Venice, would be basically underwater.

In Africa and the Middle East? Dakar, Accra, Jeddah — gone.

Millions of people in Asia, in cities like Mumbai, Beijing, and Tokyo, would be uprooted and have to move inland.

South America would say goodbye to cities like Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.

And in the U.S., we'd watch places like Houston, San Francisco, and New York City — not to mention the entire state of Florida — slowly disappear into the sea.

All GIFs via Business Insider Science/YouTube.

Business Insider based these visuals off National Geographic's estimation that sea levels will rise 216 feet (!) if all of earth's land ice melted into our oceans.

There's even a tool where you can take a detailed look at how your community could be affected by rising seas, for better or worse.

Although ... looking at these maps, it's hard to imagine "for better" is a likely outcome for many of us.

Much of America's most populated regions would be severely affected by rising sea levels, as you'll notice exploring the map, created by Alex Tingle using data provided by NASA.

Take, for instance, the West Coast. (Goodbye, San Fran!)

Or the East Coast. (See ya, Philly!)

And the Gulf Coast. (RIP, Bourbon Street!)

I bring up the topic not just for funsies, of course, but because the maps above are real possibilities.

How? Climate change.

As we continue to burn fossil fuels for energy and emit carbon into our atmosphere, the planet gets warmer and warmer. And that, ladies and gentlemen, means melted ice.

A study published this past September by researchers in the U.S., U.K., and Germany found that if we don't change our ways, there's definitely enough fossil fuel resources available for us to completely melt the Antarctic ice sheet.

Basically, the self-inflicted disaster you see above is certainly within the realm of possibility.

"This would not happen overnight, but the mind-boggling point is that our actions today are changing the face of planet Earth as we know it and will continue to do so for tens of thousands of years to come," said lead author of the study Ricarda Winkelmann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

If we want to stop this from happening," she says, "we need to keep coal, gas, and oil in the ground."

The good news? Most of our coastlines are still intact! And they can stay that way, too — if we act now.

World leaders are finallystarting to treat climate change like the global crisis that it is — and you can help get the point across to them, too.

Check out Business Insider's video below:

This article originally appeared on 12.08.15

Watching a mighty glacier recede before your eyes can be stunning.

The Mendenhall Glacier receded about 1,800 feet between 2007 and 2015. Images from James Balog via AP.

To see something so huge rendered so ephemeral in just a simple pair of images.

Switzerland's Stein Glacier lost about 1,800 feet between 2006 and 2015.


These before-and-after shots serve as powerful reminders of climate change.

The Trift Glacier in Switzerland lost nearly three-quarters of a mile between 2006 and 2015. Images from James Balog via AP and Matt Kennedy via AP.

Warmer weather has been shrinking glaciers around the world, from the Himalayas to the American West. These latest images are part of a set released by the Geological Society of America.

But they don't show the whole story.

What happens after the "after" photo?

When glaciers melt, that water runs into streams and rivers. But here's the thing: It matters when the water moves into streams and rivers.

Glaciers work like icy time machines. In many areas, glaciers and mountaintop snowpack trap winter precipitation that would have otherwise ended up flowing downstream, eventually to the ocean. They then release it during the warmer, drier summer, helping even out river levels year-round.

But as glaciers shrink, that time machine winds down. Rivers and lakes can't depend on that meltwater.

Ross Lake in northern Washington. In 2001, little rain and a light snowpack caused water levels to drop (top). The photo above is the lake at normal water level. Photos by David McNew/Newsmakers/Getty Images and Zengame/Flickr.

This is a major worry in many areas, such as in the Himalayas and the many highly populated countries their glaciers feed, but in America too. In the Pacific Northwest, declining snowpack might starve the mighty Columbia River.

Shrinking rivers have their own after-effects.

We depend on rivers for much more than just drinking water. Hydroelectric dams provide 70% of the Pacific Northwest's electricity. They feed agricultural projects and provide a habitat for salmon, trout, and other creatures. We play in them and on them. All of these things could be affected.

We still have the power to head off negative changes. Transitioning to cleaner energy sources such as wind and solar means fewer climate-affecting emissions, while more judicious water usage could help head off the worst effects.

So the next time you see one of these amazing before-and-afters, remember it's only the start of the story.

The Sólheimajökull Glacier in Iceland retreated more than 2,000 feet between 2007 and 2015. Images from James Balog via AP.

Oh, great!

Photo via NASA Earth Observatory

Just another Manhattan-sized chunk of Antarctica breaking off and scooting fancy free into the ocean.

Photo via NASA Earth Observatory.


The Pine Island glacier, where the break took place, also experienced large ice losses in 2014 and 2015. This cleavage is smaller, but still alarming to scientists, who fear the trend is accelerating.

"Such ‘rapid fire’ calving does appear to be unusual for this glacier," Ohio State University glaciologist Ian Howat said in a NASA press release.

This is really not a great time for solid ice on Earth.

The Antarctic iceberg's decision to peace out from the Pine Island glacier comes amid reports of frequent "heat waves" at the poles and record low amounts of sea ice.

Just three years ago, this — the largest-ever glacial cleaving caught on film — happened in Greenland:

GIF from "Chasing Ice"/Submarine Deluxe.

It's a good thing the new U.S. administration's incoming EPA chief is a responsible steward of the Earth, at one with nature, devoted to...

Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images.

... oh. Right. He's 100% not.

As Oklahoma attorney general, Scott Pruitt devoted much of his energy to suing the EPA — the very department he's been put forward to lead. Prior to his nomination, he bragged about being "a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda."

He's also not so sure about this whole climate change thing being legit, which, you know...

GIF from "Chasing Ice"/Submarine Deluxe.

...is troubling. To say the least.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on Pruitt's nomination soon.

And there are some signs he might be in trouble.

Maine's Susan Collins is a "no" and John McCain is out of the house. That means just one more senator needs to flip if Pruitt is going to be rejected. A few have shown willingness to buck Trump on other priorities: Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, who voted against Betsy DeVos, Kentucky's Rand Paul, who has opposed several of the administration's proposed state department hires, and South Carolina's Lindsay Graham, who's been critical of Trump on national security issues.

If you live in one of those states, do give your senators a call. Now.

Save our ice!

The glacier, in happier, non-cleaved times. Photo via NASA Earth Observatory.

(And, you know, our coastal cities and civilization, while we're at it).

Update — 2/17/17, 1:21p.m. ET: Welp. Pruitt went through. Good try, everyone. You should still call your senators, though, and tell them to stand up to any attempt to roll back climate rules and legislation. Earth's glaciers are counting on you!

This is probably the picture that comes to mind when someone starts to talk about Greenland.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.


Stark, pale blue glaciers. High, rocky mountains.

Greenland is a poster child of climate change.

A scientist studying layers of ice in a glacier. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

It sometimes seems like the only images we see are giant fields of ice — and maybe, if you're lucky, a scientist in snow gear plunging an indescribable instrument into a snow drift, like some sort of future explorer on a distant planet.

It's easy to talk about Greenland as if it were some alien world.

But Greenland isn't just glaciers and snow.

An aerial view of Ilulissat, Greenland. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

While it's true that about 80% of the country is covered by glaciers, many small towns and cities dot the coastlines.

More than 55,000 people call Greenland home.

Loretta Henriksen with rhubarb gathered from her garden. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

About 16,000 of them live in Nuuk, Greenland's largest city.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Nuuk is also Greenland's capital and home to the University of Greenland.

In 2013, photographer Joe Raedle went to Greenland, where he found children playing on playgrounds...

Playtime in Nuuk. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Families eating together in a cafe at a mall...

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

A young woman on a set swings...

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

And people relaxing with cups of coffee.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Out in the country, Raedle also snapped a shot of Greenlander Pilu Nielson playing with his dog near the family farm.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Nielson's family raises sheep and grows potatoes near the city of Qaqortoq.

As it turns out, Greenland can be, well, pretty green.

Trout caught in a stream near Qaqortoq. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

And climate change ... may actually be making the land greener?

Arnaq Egede walks along her family farm, the largest in Greenland. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

That's part of what Raedle went to Greenland to document: how the people are adapting to changes in their environment.

It probably doesn't come as a surprise that in recent years, Greenland has been getting a lot warmer.

Two men playing guitar in the summer sun, 2013. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

The trend was already apparent when Raedle visited in 2013, and it hasn't let up since. In, fact, in June 2016, Greenland's capital hit its highest ever recorded temperature.

How climate change is affecting Greenland is more complicated than the thermometer, though.

On the one hand, climate change has been hurting traditional hunting practices. On the other, warmer summers have extended farmers' growing season.

A supermarket in Greenland. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

While Greenland's famous glaciers have been shrinking at a record pace, that's also opened up new land to farming and mining.

A geologist looking for samples to better understand the glacial retreat. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Greenland also has rich mineral deposits, including uranium, which could bring jobs — or exploit local workers. Many people, including some in Greenland's government, are being cautious about jumping in.

But climate change's biggest effect on Greenland may be the ocean.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Almost 90% of Greenland's export economy is made up of fish and shellfish, especially cold-water shrimp. Climate change may bring new species, but it may also endanger these precious stocks.

In a perhaps bittersweet twist, Greenland is also starting to get a lot of climate change tourism.

Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images.

Tourists want to see the glaciers before they're gone. In 2010, Greenland had an estimated 60,000 tourists, according to Smithsonian Magazine — that's more tourists than there are Greenlanders!

Climate change is going to change a lot in Greenland, but Greenlanders seem adaptable.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

"We're used to change," said Pilu Nielson (the farmer playing with his dog). "We learn to adapt to whatever comes."

It's easy to feel like climate change is something that'll only really matter in a hundred or a thousand years.

But these pictures show it's changing lives now, especially in Greenland.