What if Antarctica MELTED?
This is Antarctica. Today, it’s mostly known for ice, penguins, and not much else. Or, in another way, Antarctica is easily forgotten, with some people not even bothering to include it on their World maps. But in modern times, we’re beginning to hear more and more about Earth’s southernmost continent. Mostly through news reports on melting ice, rising sea levels, and maybe some popular documentaries. What I say: ice and penguins. On the whole, however, discussion on Antarctica is focused on climate change. And the reason for this is obvious,
of course climate change is a tremendous issue. And one, that I myself have spent a lot of time discussing. But let’s take a step back from the issue of climate change, for just a minute, to ask: If all the ice did melt, what would happen,
and what would we find underneath? Let’s start with what would happen to the rest of the world first. So, 98% of Antarctica’s surface is smothered under a massive ice sheath, with an average depth of 1.6 kilometers. And, despite how big or small Antarctica looks on maps,
it’s actually the 5th largest continent on Earth, covering an area 14 million square kilometers. That makes it 1.4 times the size of Europe,
and nearly twice the size of Australia. So, some quick math: 14 million square kilometers of ice, at 1.6 kilometers deep, gives you around 26.5 million cubic kilometers of ice. For comparison, that’s nearly 11 times the volume of the Gulf of Mexico. And, in all, Antarctica contains 70% of the Earth’s freshwater. So, it all of it were to melt, the entire world would feel the impacts. First, and perhaps the most obviously,
sea levels would rise by around 60 meters. This would result in widespread flooding across the globe, and nowhere near a coast would be safe. Places like the US state of Florida, the Amazon river basin, and central China would entirely disappear beneath the ocean. In total, anywhere between 1 and 2 billion people could be displaced by this event. Next, all of this freshwater would alter the salinity, aka. the saltiness of the ocean. This in itself, would damage many marine populations, and could even force the extinction of sensitive species, like corals. But more importantly, the decreased salinity would alter the density of ocean water, which in turn could disrupt ocean currents. This would throw off the whole circulation of water,
throughout the oceans and the atmosphere. In short, the Earth’s weather could be drastically altered. Potentially turning traditionally human agricultural land into deserts, while places, that might be deserts today, could become flood planes, unequipped for large-scale agriculture. And, because the Earth’s weather system is so complex, we really would have no way of knowing,
where changes like this would occur. We’d essentially be sitting ducks,
in the face of drastic global change. But what about the land of Antarctica?
What would we find there? Aright, so today Antarctica
looks like this. Pretty boring. These parts aren’t technically part of the continent, but rather, they’re just ice shelves hanging over the ocean. Taking them away, it still looks rather unspectacular. But stripping ALL of the ice away,
reveals something unexpected. What appeared to be a single landmass,
is actually a collection of mountainous islands, with 5 main bodies, and a bunch of smaller ones close to a large flatland region, making up the majority of the land area. So, what looks like a contiguous continent now, in a lot of ways looks very similar to Australia, and the accompanying Malay archipelago. One large flatland, surrounded by more mountainous islands. The notable features of the continent today,
would become isolated into islands of their own. With the Antarctic peninsula becoming the largest of these such islands, while Vinson Massif, the continent’s tallest mountain,
would become the island with the greatest elevation. The Transantarctic Mountain Range, which today is the 4th longest mountain range on Earth, would barely remain connected to the main landmass. For comparison, the Antarctic Peninsula would measure roughly 250,000 square kilometers. Which is almost 50,000- square kilometers larger,
than Great Britain, and barely smaller than California. Mainland Antarctica would be half its previous size, to become 7 million square kilometers. Or roughly equal in size to Australia. One last thing before we move on, is this is what the continent would look like today, having removed the ice. But over time, this would change. You see, because the land was under such heavy ice for so long, the crust actually sank into mantle here. With all that heavy ice removed, it would slowly bounce back up, over many thousands of years. This is called “isostatic rebounding”, and it’s happening currently in places like Canada in Norway, as a result of glaciers from the last Ice Age. So, when all is said and done, and the crust is back in place, Antarctica would look more like this. Now, it would be 3 big landmasses. With the biggest at around 9 million square kilometers, just smaller than Europe. Then, the aforementioned Peninsula Island,
and this large highland region, (which would likely come to be known as Marie Byrd Island – see “a map of modern Antarctica”, to know why); both would roughly be 650,000 square kilometers in size. This would place both of them ahead of Madagascar, but behind Borneo in size, making them the new 4th and 5th largest islands on the planet. Okay, so now that we know, what the land would look like, next we need to know, what we would actually find there. Despite what many people might be hoping for, even without ice, Antarctica today would still be a barren and inhospitable country. First, it would still be located right on the South Pole,
meaning temperatures would be frigid year around. And for half of the year, the Sun would never rise above the horizon. And much like other places on Earth,
that have experienced recent glaciation, like Canada, Scandinavia and northern Russia – Antarctica would be devoid of most soil and arable land. After millions of years beneath those massive ice sheaths, all sand, silt and clay would have been dispersed. And what’s still underneath, is likely only sheer bedrock and gravel. Not the best conditions for agriculture. The best we could hope for, is for a tundra ecosystem to slowly develop, featuring wide stretches of moss and lichens. Perhaps still with millions of penguins, though. Here’s hoping. If we wanted to, the land could be used as grazing land for muskoxen, which are capable of living under such conditions. And maybe species like Arctic hares and Arctic foxes could be brought down on boats, to create a true ecosystem. Also, the landscape would be fraught with small lakes and ponds, similar to northern Canada – again, due to glaciation. And most of the low-elevation regions would end up looking like this. And, while large-scale farming would be impossible here, Antarctica could become a hub of another major economic activity: mining. You see, Antarctica was once part of the super-continent called Gondwana, 600 million years ago. Besides Antarctica, Gondwana included the landmasses of South America, Africa, Arabia, India, and Australia. And while each of these places have moved apart from one another, they still share a common richness in natural resources. And it’s expected, that Antarctica would share a similar abundance of wealth. Perhaps most importantly, huge resources of both coal and oil are predicted to lay underneath Antarctica, Which until this point, have remained completely untapped. Also expected to be found here, are deposits of
iron, copper, platinum, gold, silver and uranium. Who exactly gets to take advantage of these resources, however, is still up in the air. Currently, 7 countries lay claim on Antarctica, but these claims are tenuous and most likely to be ignored, if real land emerges. So it’s anyone’s guess, as to what the scramble for Antarctica would look like. Hopefully, the UN could mitigate land distribution, to avoid things getting violent. Perhaps even land could be assigned, based on how much land a country lost, due to rising sea levels. In a way then, Antarctica could become a land of refuge,
and would even become a country of its own. United by climate change, populated by refugees, rich from their abundant resources, and maybe, with a very unique cuisine. I hope you enjoyed this video. If you wanna see more, consider hitting that like button, and subscribing for more videos like this in the future. I’m getting ready to start another,
small series, hopefully starting next week. And you don’t wanna miss that.
But for now, thanks for watching.