Antarctic Ice Impacts on Society

Antarctic and Greenland ice hold 99% of the world’s freshwater, with the vast majority in Antarctica. Melting all the ice in Antarctica would cause global sea levels to rise by 80 meters (265 feet). And the world’s largest icebergs—by far—come from Antarctic. We have all heard the news about the giant pieces of the ice sheet—Larsen B, Larsen C, etc.—breaking off into the ocean and creating city- or even state-sized icebergs.

Icebergs calving into the ocean from glaciers along the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula might not be as large as an ice shelf, but the ice can still influence human societies—and not just through sea level rise. As Antarctic tourism skyrockets, cruise ship destinations are shaped not only by visitor bucket lists but also by the location of icebergs. The bergs can clog up access to certain areas or influence the penguin populations that tourists so desperately want to see. Changing ice on the west Antarctic Peninsula also affects ecosystems and conservation practices.

Antarctic icebergs, in other words, are more than a barometer for climate change and a source of freshwater into the oceans. They are also producing regional societal impacts, too.

Photo by Ethan Norris for the National Science Foundation