National Geographic News
Behind the Cover:
September 2013
If all the ice on Earth melted,
how wet would the Statue of Liberty get?
By Jason Treat, Senior Graphics Editor
Illustration by Nick Kaloterakis

On the September cover, the Statue of Liberty stands in water up to her midsection, where the label “NO ICE” marks how high the sea would rise on the American icon if all the ice on Earth melted.

The cover story, "Rising Seas," looks ahead to 2100 and the effects that higher sea levels caused by climate change might have on our coastlines.

The world's ice won't have come close to disappearing by 2100. According to some scientists, that won't happen for at least 5,000 years, and we'd have to burn through the planet's supply of coal, oil, and gas to make it happen.

But for the image on the cover (and for the pull-out poster accompanying the story), we wanted to explore what the world would look like if all the ice melted. Bill Marr, the magazine's creative director, decided that the best way to illustrate this extreme scenario would be to use a recognizable point of reference: the Statue of Liberty. Nick Kaloterakis was recruited to create the art.

The first question, of course, was how high the seas would rise on an ice-free planet. That answer was straightforward enough. Philippe Huybrechts of Vrije Universiteit Brussel projected a total sea-level rise of 216 feet (66 meters) should the entire cryosphere melt, including the behemoth East Antarctic ice sheet.

(See "Interactive: If All The Ice Melted")

The next question: How high would the water rise on the Statue of Liberty? For that, we needed two simple facts, both of which proved surprisingly elusive: The height of the Statue and its height above sea level. Those figures were difficult to confirm because the national monument was closed due to damage caused by Sandy, the very storm whose surge predicted the havoc that rising sea levels would cause.

After much digging through historic and modern sources, including a 1940 National Parks guide book, we determined that the Statue was 305 feet (92.99 meters) tall from its base to the tip of Lady Liberty's torch and 24 feet (7.2 meters) above sea level.

If this worst of all worst case scenarios comes to pass, the Statue of Liberty may be partially submerged. By the time seas might rise that high, however—thousands of years into the future—she may be long gone.

Published September 13, 2013

Patti Cross
Patti Cross

I'm sorry I did a typo! Last sentence should read "CAN we receive permission?" 

Patti Cross
Patti Cross

I am a graphic designer working on a Sea Level Rise educational booklet for the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program and Mote Marine Lab. They would be interesting in including the cover image of Rising Sea in the publication. We I receive permission to show the cover?

Thank you,

Please reply to:

John Patt
John Patt

This article is seriously missing the point about global climate change. Few people care (and therefore will act accordingly) about the sea levels rising a foot or so this century, or fifty feet in the future. The problem with global climate change is that it can destroy species and ecosystems upon which we depend for our food. This can happen much sooner, and with much greater social and political upheaval than any rise in sea levels.


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