What if the Greenland ice sheet melts.pdf

# What if the Greenland ice sheet melts.pdf - What if the...

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What if the Greenland ice sheet melts (Solution) 2.1.4.P17 / 5.2.1.P18 An important question to consider when thinking about global warming is, "If the ice sheets near the poles melt, how much will the sea level rise?" This seems like a difficult question, given the odd shapes of both the ice sheets and the oceans. But there are some accurate approximations that allow the answer to be estimated fairly accurately with reasonably simple calculations. The critical idea is that both the thickness of the ice sheets and the amounts of the sea­level rise are extremely small compared to the radius of the earth. The radius of the earth is about 2/π x 10 7 m ­­ more than 6000 kilometers. The ice sheet thicknesses we will be concerned with are single digit miles and the sea level rises will be in dozens of feet. As a result, in thinking about them, we can essentially ignore the curvature of the earth. We can imagine peeling the map of the earth off a globe and flattening it out (by making cuts, not by stretching it, so that we preserve the area). Then, both the ice and the sea level rise can be treated as right (not tilted) cylinders (though with funny shaped bases and tops). Since we know that the volume of a right cylinder is the area of the base times the height, we can easily estimate all the volumes we need. A schematic picture of this approximation (with the height of the ice mass greatly exaggerated ­­ you couldn't see it if I didn't) is shown below. The error in these approximations is on the order of the

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• Summer '16
• David Buehrle

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