The Greenland ice sheet will eventually melt away, according to a new computer study. When this happens, sea levels will rise by 23 feet, flooding most of the world’s coastal regions. Most major cities are situated on coasts, because they grew up as ports and trading centers. Climatologist Jonathan Gregory says this will “probably be irreversible this side of a new ice age.” The good news: the total meltdown won’t take place for at least 1,000 years.

Fred Pearce writes in New Scientist that Greenland meltwater would make the North Atlantic less salty, triggering a collapse of the Gulf Stream which would cool the climate over Greenland, as well as northern Europe and, perhaps trigger a new ice age, which would then halt the melting. This may be a cycle that has taken place regularly on the Earth.

But until this happens, the melting?once it starts?will be almost impossible to stop. Gregory says, “Even if global climate returned to pre-industrial conditions, the ice sheet might not regenerate,” meaning sea levels would remain higher for a long time afterwards.

Important cities have drowned in the past and we’re just now learning where to find them.

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