Polar News

Sea-Level Rise Could Nearly Double Over Earlier Estimates in Next 100 Years

A new study from climate scientists Robert DeConto at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and David Pollard at Pennsylvania State University suggests that the most recent estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for future sea-level rise over the next 100 years could be too low by almost a factor of two. Details appear in the current issue of Nature.

 

DeConto says, “This could spell disaster for many low-lying cities. For example, Boston could see more than 1.5 meters [about 5 feet] of sea-level rise in the next 100 years. But the good news is that an aggressive reduction in emissions will limit the risk of major Antarctic ice sheet retreat.”

With mechanisms that were previously known but never incorporated in a model like this before, added to their ice-sheet model to consider the effects of surface melt water on the break-up of ice shelves and the collapse of vertical ice cliffs, the authors find that Antarctica has the potential to contribute greater than 1 meter (39 inches) of sea-level rise by the year 2100, and greater than 15 meters (49 feet) by 2500 if atmospheric emissions continue unabated. In this worst case scenario, atmospheric warming (rather than ocean warming) will soon become the dominant driver of ice loss.

The revised estimate for sea-level rise comes from including new processes in the 3-dimensional ice sheet model, and testing them against past episodes of high sea-levels and ice retreat.

The researchers find that “ocean-driven melt is an important driver of Antarctic ice shelf retreat where warm water is in contact with shelves, but in high greenhouse-gas emissions scenarios, atmospheric warming soon overtakes the ocean as the dominant driver of Antarctic ice loss.” Further, they find that if substantial amounts of ice are lost, the long thermal memory of the ocean that will inhibit the ice sheet’s recovery for thousands of years after greenhouse-gas emissions are curtailed.

Source

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