NASA predicts which cities will flood as ice sheets melt

NASA's new simulation tool analyzes Earth's gravitational field and rate of spin to produce a more accurate prediction of how meltwater will be distributed around the planet.
By Ian Marsh | Nov 18, 2017
NASA scientists have developed a simulation tool to help predict which coastal cities are most likely to flood as Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets melt due to global warming.

The new method is described in the journal Science Advances.

The simulation analyzes Earth's gravitational field and rate of spin to produce a more accurate prediction of how meltwater will be distributed around the planet.

"As cities and countries attempt to build plans to mitigate flooding, they have to be thinking about 100 years in the future and they want to assess risk in the same way that insurance companies do," said co-author Erik Ivins, senior scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, in a report by BBC News.

New York City, for example, will be most directly affected by melting in the northern and eastern areas of the Greenland ice sheet, while London will be most directly affected by melting off Greenland's northeastern coast.

Sydney, Australia, on the other hand, should worry about melting in the northern half of Antarctica.

Several processes influence the pattern of sea-level change around the world. Gravity is one.

"These [ice sheets] are huge masses that exert an attraction on the ocean," said lead author Dr. Eric Larour of JPL, in the BBC News report. "When the ice shrinks, that attraction diminishes and the sea will move away from that mass."

Another key factor involves the rotation of the planet.

"You can think of the Earth as a spinning top," said Dr. Larour. "As it spins it wobbles and as masses on its surface change, that wobble also changes. That, in turn, redistributes water around the Earth."

Taking these factors into account, the NASA scientists were able to create their forecasting tool.

"We can compute the exact sensitivity for a specific town of a sea level to every ice mass in the world," said Larour.

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