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Ice sheets becoming a hot topic

CoE Professor Curt Davis warned about rising sea levels caused by climate warming during an Engineers' Week presentation. Photo by Jan Wiese-Fales

Rising sea levels are probably the most serious effect of global warming, and have already displaced portions of the world’s population, an MU College of Engineering professor warned Wednesday.

“These effects are not in the future; these effects are happening now,” said Curt Davis, an electrical and computer engineering professor whose research focuses on ice sheet mapping and change.

Davis attracted national attention in 2005 when he reported that East Antarctica’s interior ice sheet has been growing in thickness, as climate warming theories had previously predicted. Yet while some ice sheet areas are thickening, many coastal areas of the ice sheets are thinning rapidly—and contributing to global sea level rise, Davis stressed Wednesday.

So much ice has melted into the world’s oceans that it accounts for about 70 percent of the rise in the world’s sea level over the last 10 years, Davis said.

Since about two billion people live within 60 kilometers of a coastline, rising sea levels pose a threat to a substantial portion of the world’s population, he said. That threat already has forced hundreds of thousands of people living in Bangladesh to relocate, Davis said.

Davis discussed global warming and rising sea levels as part of the CoE’s Engineers’ Week celebration, which runs through March 17.