When the icecap is melting somewhere, ocean level rises somewhere else


Can the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”: That’s the butterfly effect, theorized by Edward Lorenz, an American scientist, in 1972. It perfectly illustrates the consequences of climate change. The ice cap melts somewhere, and the effects can be felt across the globe where sea level rises a bit more every year.

Melting of land-ices : a major consequence of climate change

The global rise of world temperature has visible consequences on ice caps. In Antarctica, yearly melting of ice cap is 6 times quicker than 40 years ago. Since 1992, 3 000 billion tons of ice have been lost. Same assessment in the north of the globe, in Greenland, ice cap melting has been multiplied by 4 from 2003 to 2013. As an example, on June 17th, 2019, Greenland lost almost 3.7 billion tons of ice in a single day.

Consequences for local populations are tremendous. Thinning ice is causing reduced hunting periods and disruptions to the entire ecosystem. "Melting seasons" are natural annual occurences but in recent years the effect has been amplified by heavy human industrial activity. Thus, worldwide temperature is on average 1.6°C higher than it was 150 years ago, meaning before European industrialization.

Thule et Tuvalu : populations bond by climate change

What is happening in the Artic and Antarctica is not without any effects on other regions of the globe. For example, melting ice in Greenland is contributing to global sea level rise by about 0.7 mm every year. In the past century the Ocean level has risen nearly 20cm and rates are predicted to accelerate rapidly over the next several decades.  

The northern city of Thule in Greenland, and Thuvalu, an island nation of the Pacific are two locations that are feeling the effects of this interconnectivity. Both cities are bond by climate change’s effects. In Thule, melting of ice cap is reaching record highs each year. On the other side, Tuvalu is one of the first countries to fear total disappearance of land due to rising sea level. Both scenarios illustrate the impact that the melting of ice cap in a location can have on rising sea level in another location. That is the subject of Thule Tuvalu, a documentary by Matthias von Gunten, showcasing how both populations are compelled to abandon their traditional lifestyles. The parallel editing highlights their common destiny as well as the sociological, economic and cultural impact of climate change.

Reduce and adapt : a major stake for citizens but mostly for professionals

Facing these stakes, two types of reactions crop up among citizens. First, there is attenuation, aiming for reduction of greenhouse gas contributing to global warming, thus accelerating melting of land-ices. Actions can be taken such as better insulating homes, changing transportation modes and controlling global consumption. Adaptation is also bound to happen, especially for those living in costal zones. It will especially happen through reinforcing natural process such as revegetation of sand dune, or passive surveillance to measure coast lines.

Nevertheless, citizens are not the ones most responsible for melting of land-ices. In France, transportations are the number one source of greenhouse gas (29.7% in 2017) before industries and tertiary sector (25.8%), agriculture (18.9%). Improvements need to be done by these sectors to reduce their (over)production and pollution frequencies, in order to shift to a more sustainable production, emitting less CO2 and thus reducing global warming.

Thus, the ice cap is melting and it is being accelerated by anthropic pressure. Melting ice contributing to rising sea level is creating consequences felt all over the globe . We have the ability to slow this environmental phenomena, but changes in the way we produce and consume must be concrete and immediate.  

Similar articles


Towards a 75% reduction in plastic production by 2050: Surfrider Foundation calls for an ambitious treaty on plastic pollution

The second session of international negotiations on the treaty to end plastic pollution will take place f...

read more

Marine renewable energy: a solution provided by the Ocean (yet again!)

It is urgent to refocus our priorities and above all our efforts on the preservation of the Ocean (and it...

read more

our values


The passion for the oceans, the coastline and the pleasures animate everyone who supports Surfrider and guides the organization's action.


Surfrider is rooted in the value of sharing and participation through inclusion and diversity.


Surfrider seeks a harmonious relationship between humans and nature.