Coastal cities and island nations are where where global warming and rising sea levels will have the most effect. England will be especially hard hit because the Gulf Stream, which now keeps Britain warm, will drop down, giving the U.K. the same weather as Northern Canada, which is on the same latitude. The recent heavy snowstorms in the U.K. may be a sample of what’s to come. A newly launched NASA satellite will soon give us the answer, since it will track ice sheets near the north and south poles, which are one of the first signs that climate change isn’t just a future threat?it’s happening now.

The amount of ice melting from the Greenland ice sheet broke all known records last year. The Gulf Stream is slowing down, and more Greenland melting could shut it down completely, bringing snow rather than rain to Britain and leading to a much colder climate, like they’ve experienced this winter.

Last year large areas of the Greenland ice shelf, which was previously too high and too cold to melt, began pouring billions of gallons of fresh water into the northern Atlantic. Melted water trapped between the ice and the rock underneath is causing huge chunks of glaciers to break off and increasing the number of icebergs. This is the first time in recent history that this giant island close to the north pole has melted to this extent.

The NASA Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) will keep track of the melting ice sheets near the poles to see how they react to global warming. Researchers know the Earth is warming up, but they wonder how these gigantic sheets of ice will react to the change. Most people think that as the planet gets warmer, the ice sheets will get smaller, but this is not necessarily so. NASA?s Michael King says, “In a warmer climate, the atmosphere can contain more water vapor, so for moderate changes of temperature, it’s altogether conceivable that the ice sheets might expand.”

Surveys of Greenland during the last 10 years show that while the ice sheet is thinning near the coast as it?s lapped with warmer water, it?s thickening near the center of the land mass, due to greater snow accumulation caused by increased water vapor. However, in the case of long-term warming, the ice sheets will definitely melt, raising the ocean level significantly?which is more bad news for the island nation of England.

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