'We will be remembered in history for triggering polar ice melting'
Tim Hanlon

Adults today will go down in history for triggering the melting of polar ice caps and changing the face of the Earth, warned a leading German scientist.

Ingo Sasgen, from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, made the grave prediction after a huge 113-square-kilometer piece of ice broke off the Arctic's largest remaining ice shelf in northeast Greenland in the past two years.

The ice sheet is the second largest in the world behind one in Antarctica.

"We are triggering something, like the Romans invented sewage systems ... and we will be remembered for changing the whole face of the Earth," said Sasgen.

Although the effects of global warming are taking place slowly, plans will have to be made for rising sea levels.


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"If you raise the sea level, then the frequency of floods will increase and a 100-year flood will become a 10-year flood, depending on the slope of the coastline and how much the sea level rises," said Sasgen.

"The risk is rising exponentially and for the cities it depends really on how much you can protect them from rising sea levels, I think in a 100-year time frame at least. 

"I'm here in northern Germany and there is a huge dike, so we are going to be safe for some time, but if you look at the really-long perspective, as a colleague has put it, we are going to be the society that is going to be remembered for triggering the loss of the ice and at some certain point, in 100 years or 200 years maybe, but in 500 or 700 you won't be able to retain the coastline and you will have to move inwards."

Greenland is the world's largest island and around 79 percent of its surface is covered in ice.

"The past decade or 15 years have been exceptional in events ... and I feel this is just the beginning, so I think if we speak five years or 10 years from now, there will be a more robust statistic," Sasgen continued.

"I think what we can learn from the polar regions is that the changes are going to be fundamental to the whole climate system and that everyone in their way will be affected by this."

Video editing: Riaz Jugon