How would the world look like without ice?

There are more than five million cubic miles of ice on Earth, and throughout our planet’s history, there have been periods with both more, and less ice. We tend to think of ice as an immovable reality but in truth, planetary ice is quite volatile. With continuously rising temperatures, melting ice and rising sea levels become a reality we have to deal with, and while the complete melting of ice won’t happen in the near future, here’s how the world would look like without ice:

Florida would be completely underwater, as would most of the Gulf Coast. San Francisco’s hills would become a cluster of islands, and the Gulf of California would stretch past the latitude of San Diego – not that there’d be a San Diego. Most of Alaska would be a distant memory as Greenland dumps all its ice. Much of Mexico and the Central Americas will also be flooded, and cities like New York, Havana, Miami or Boston would be under meters of water.

In South America, things aren’t much different. The Amazon Basin is flooded, and the biggest cities are flooded. Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Georgetown and Paramaribo wouldn’t exist if all the ice melts, and while the Pacific Coast would be protected by the Andes, the eastern coast would be greatly pushed back.

Europe would perhaps suffer the most – countries like the Netherlands, Belgium or Denmark would only feature some small islands, as would the Northern part of Germany. Normandy? Gone. London and eastern England? Gone. Italy’s coast shrank, as did Russia’s and Spain’s. The Baltic countries also got much smaller. In terms of what cities would be gone, Venice would be one of the first. London, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Dublin, Odessa, Rome – all gone. Northern African cities will also be destroyed as the Mediterranean Sea now communicates with the Black and Caspian seas. Yeah, many of the big cities are built on the coast.

Africa would be the least affected in terms of sea level rise. Still Gambia and Senegal are completely underwater, the Egyptian cities of Cairo and Alexandria are just swamps, and Cape Town also takes a dive.

The amount of damage for the people in Asia is mind blowing. Land now inhabited by 600 million Chinese is now underwater. India and Bangladesh, two of the most populous countries in the world also have their big coastal cities destroyed, and Indonesia, the archipelago that houses 250 million people loses almost half of its surface. The Kara Sea has also swallowed large portions of Siberia.

The lakes in east-central Australia have merged and appear to have rive access to the Southern Ocean. Most of the Pacific Islands are wholly or mostly submerged; only a narrow strip of Australia’s coast goes down, but several million people live in that narrow strip.

In case you’re wondering what you’re looking at – that’s Antarctica. Antarctica is now ice free, and half of the continent is now submerged under the Ocean. All that’s left behind is its mountains and high plains, and this is what we’re seeing already, with the melt of the Antarctica Ice.

This is an extreme scenario – all the ice on Earth isn’t going to melt in the near future, but even if a small fraction of it melts, in can still cause enormous damage through rising sea levels, and even a small rise in global average temperatures can cause massive quantities of ice. Think about that, and now think about the fact that there are other, even larger threats associated with global warming.

Images Source: Jason Treat, Matthew Twombly, Web Barr, Maggie Smith, NGM Staff. Art: Kees Veenenbos. All credits go to National Geographic Society.

14 thoughts on “How would the world look like without ice?

  1. john8

    With CO2 at it’s highest level ever, antarctic ice at it’s highest measured rate ever, and global sea ice area well above the 1979-2008 mean (5th largest on record), this article seems more fear-mongering agenda than reality.

  2. Andrei Mihai

    Step 1: read the article before commenting.

    Step 2: learn some basic physics and see what high CO2 levels mean for the world’s climate.

    Step 3: read some actual studies regarding the Antarctica ice (here are just a few: https://dev.zmescience.com/tag/ice-melt/)

    Step 4: refrain yourself from preposterous and misleading comments like the one above until you’ve done the 3 above steps.

  3. Gnarlodious

    What’s even scarier is that a lot of that water will end up in the atmosphere as humidity, vastly increasing air density and thermal gradients. We can expect horrific storms and flooding. This may actually be good news for the worlds deserts, as they will likely get more vegetation.

  4. DrakeMallard

    Madrid is in the central high country and will not flood with sea water. Earth’s 3 billion coastal dwellers will need to move.

  5. jimmy6p

    There’s a lot of misleading information being published about ice loss at the poles. Fact is, what “john8” says is 100% correct.

  6. jimmy6p

    The Thwaites glacier in Antarctica, is considered the ‘gateway’ to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. There is “movement of magma and volcanic activity” beneath Thwaites. This is affecting the melting of the WAIC and has nothing to do with man made activity. You have to look to find this info. It won’t be found on the Evening News. If you’re getting your ‘climate change’ info from the MSM, you’re being misinformed. I expected better scrutiny from ZME.

  7. Progressive Republican

    Um, no. Like so many on the right, you conflate area with volume. While surface ice is indeed greater than average, the volume of ice continues to shrink.

    As it does all over the world.

  8. Progressive Republican

    Something neglected, I believe, is the effect of the removal of the weight of the ice from the continent as well as from Greenland. I expect both to rise and be less inundated than these pictures suppose; especially Antarctica.

  9. rtb61

    The tricky bit about sea ice is that it requires fresh water to occur. So the greater the precipitation in that region (this from evaporation in other regions) the more thin sea that will form ie the snow falls on the sea (this creates the core around which further ice crystals can form), reducing the salinity and the sea far more readily freezes.
    https://van.physics.illinois.edu/qa/listing.php?id=1722
    An eleven year old had the sense to ask as question you did not john8.

  10. Kevin

    Er… No! Water vapour is less dense than air so the more water vapour in the air the less dense the air will be. This is how clouds get up there.

  11. conradg

    Basic physics leads to only a moderate degree of warming and very minor sea level rise. It takes highly speculative physics and massive imbalanced feedbacks to produce this kind of scenario.

  12. Robert Dickenson

    Look at earths timeline to get real facts about Globe warming and you will see that “This is a cycle the planet goes thru”. It may be true that CO2 at it’s highest level ever, Which is speeding along Globe warming, Once the earth reaches its breaking point, The next Ice age start, Just as it has since the beginning of time. Many people worry about the Ocean level when the snow and ice from antarctic melts, But what about all the fresh water each country pours into the Oceans everyday ? Antarctic ice is only a drop in the bucket compared to the “Trillions Of Gallons” Of Fresh Water That Flow Straight Into The Ocean everyday,” What if we redirect that water and store it. there are many place on earth that are inhabitable like millions of miles of desert areas, we could build man made lakes with all that fresh water, raising Terran around the lake and filling it with fish, Which would lower Sea levels

  13. enviropal99

    Melting of ice at the poles and higher temperatures overall precedes increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere. CO2 does not cause Global Warming. Global Warming causes increases in CO2.

    “Our analyses of ice cores from the ice sheet in Antarctica shows that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere follows the rise in Antarctic temperatures very closely and is staggered by a few hundred years at most,” explains Sune Olander Rasmussen, Associate Professor and centre coordinator at the Centre for Ice and Climate at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen.

    http://news.ku.dk/all_news/2012/2012.7/rise_in_temperatures_and_co2/

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