If we were to burn all of the planet's fossil fuel reserves, we would be saying goodbye to the entire Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. That's the takeaway from an international study announced today, Reuters reports. "To be blunt: If we burn it all, we melt it all," says the study's lead author. The study looked at a worst-case climate change scenario involving going through all of the world's coal, oil, and natural gas deposits; the resulting increase in temperatures and melting ice would also cause the sea level to rise more than 160 feet, the New York Times reports. Much of the Netherlands, Bangladesh, Florida, and other parts of the world could end up underwater in such a scenario.
The researchers weren't surprised to find that the entire ice sheet could eventually melt, but were surprised to discover that half of the melting could take place in just 1,000 years, causing seas to rise about one foot per decade (around 10 times faster than it's currently rising) and causing mass chaos as people evacuated coastal areas. "I didn’t expect it would go so fast," says a study co-author. "To melt all of Antarctica, I thought it would take something like 10,000 years." At the rate fossil fuel use is currently rising, the estimated deposits would be gone by the middle of the 22nd century. "What we are doing right now might change the face of the Earth for millennia to come," says the lead author. Adds the co-author, "If we don't stop dumping our waste carbon dioxide into the sky, land that is now home to more than a billion people will one day be underwater." (Read more climate change stories.)