If we keep burning fossil fuels indefinitely, global warming will eventually melt all the ice at the poles and on mountaintops, raising sea level by 216 feet. There are more than five million cubic miles of ice on Earth, and some scientists say it would take more than 5,000 years to melt it all.
If we continue adding carbon to the atmosphere, we will very likely create an ice-free planet, with an average temperature of perhaps 80 degrees Fahrenheit instead of the current 58.
It is not only about rising water: there is a whole host of other Biblical catastrophes in store for us if the ice caps melted. Melting the ice that covers Antarctica would cause massive earthquakes worldwide.
The Earth is the ball and the dent is the pressure caused by the enormous sheet of ice that is currently on top of Antarctica. Remove the ice and the crust of the Earth would pop out, causing intense seismic activity all over the globe. This shake-up could cause active volcanoes in Antarctica to erupt, as well.
Large parts of civilization would basically stop functioning. We are going to see civil unrest, war. Hypothetically, instantaneous melting of the polar ice caps would put large cities like Miami and London underwater, causing a massive refugee problem.
Even in a more realistic scenario, millions of people will have to move due to rising sea levels, and they will have to move at roughly the same time, likely causing chaos.
Prehistoric viruses currently trapped in Antarctic ice would be unleashed if the ice sheet were to melt. Researchers have already discovered a relatively giant prehistoric virus they named ‘pithovirus’ in Siberian permafrost and hypothesized that there would be more pathogens like it hiding in the Antarctic ice. The virus does have enough similarities to present-day viruses to make you wonder what nasty stuff could be hiding down there.
Higher Arctic temperatures following the massive thaw would make weather pretty funky. The west-to-east flow of the jet stream would slow down considerably, which is a big deal because that flow controls how storms form and move.
We would be looking at more persistent weather conditions with longer periods of rain or snow storms. In the summer, longer droughts and heat waves would be examples of these persistent conditions.