Burning all the world's fossil fuel reserves could thaw the entire Antarctic ice sheet and push up world sea levels by more than 160 feet over thousands of years an international study said on Friday.
Such a melt, also eliminating the far smaller ice sheet on Greenland, is a worst case of climate change that would inundate cities from New York to Shanghai and change maps of the world with much of the Netherlands, Bangladesh or Florida under water.
"Burning the currently attainable fossil fuel resources is sufficient to eliminate the [Antarctic] ice sheet," the scientists wrote in the journal Science Advances. Antarctica contains ice equivalent to 58 meters of sea level rise.
Even current emissions from oil, coal and natural gas could make the West Antarctic ice sheet unstable, they said, if continued for 60-80 years. That would account for just 6-8 percent of fossil fuel reserves.
"What we are doing right now might change the face of the Earth for millennia to come," lead author Ricarda Winkelmann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany told Reuters.
France will host a Nov. 30-Dec. 11 summit of almost 200 nations to seek ways to combat climate change, partly by shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energies.