The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Ice Sheets in Greenland, Antarctica Could Reach Catastrophic 'Tipping Points' if We Don't Limit Warming
Scientists just gave us another terrifying reason to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels: If temperatures push much beyond that point, both Greenland and Antarctica's ice sheets could reach a point where nothing can stop them from melting.
An international team of researchers published this chilling finding in Nature Climate Change Monday. The researchers set out to study how the ice sheets would fare in a warming world, and the results were urgent.
"A big take-away is that the ice sheets, like many components of the climate system, likely have tipping points. Once they reach a certain amount of warming (~1.5 - 2.0°C), positive feedbacks kick in and commit us to long-term ice sheet mass loss and sea level rise," study author and Rowan University School of Earth and Environment Assistant Professor Luke Trusel explained on Twitter.
If these tipping points are tipped, it would be catastrophic for coastal communities and low-lying islands. The ice sheets combined contain enough water to raise sea levels by 65 meters (approximately 213 feet), according to a press release from the Netherlands Earth System Science Center (NESSC), one of the groups involved with the research.
To put that in perspective, this animation shows what the world would look like after just six meters (around 20 feet) of sea level rise.
Sea Level Rise Animation in Google Earth www.youtube.com
Of course, all of that sea level rise wouldn't happen at once. It would take several thousands of years for the Greenland ice sheet to disappear entirely and hundreds to thousands of years for the same thing to happen to the West Antarctic ice sheet.
But, as Trusel points out, it's frightening to think that our inaction today could set things in motion that would persist so long after we are gone.
"These ice sheet instability mechanisms mean we are committed to sea level rise for centuries and millennia based on what we do now and in the very near future," Trusel tweeted.
Besides, sea level rise is already causing problems for islands and coastal communities around the globe in the form of both more extreme storm surges and daily erosion and tidal flooding. Adding more would only increase the devastation.
Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 wouldn't stop sea level rise entirely, of course. Melting is already in motion and would likely continue at current rates until the end of the century, though researchers won't rule out the possibility that those rates could still increase. But stopping our global fossil fuel binge at the 1.5 degree mark could be the difference between manageable difficulties and catastrophe.
Lead author and Université Libre de Bruxelles professor Frank Pattyn laid it out at the beginning of a Twitter thread explaining his research.
"It is important to limit global warming by 2100 to 1.5°C to maximise the chance of avoiding so-called tipping points that would dramatically accelerate mass loss from Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets," Pattyn wrote.
- The strange science of melting ice sheets: three things you didn't know ›
- What scientists knew about the Greenland ice sheet is wrong ›
- Tiny, Hidden Microbes Speeding up Greenland Ice Sheet Melt ›
- Ice Sheets | Vital Signs – Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
David Gilmour, guitarist, singer and songwriter in the rock band Pink Floyd, set a record last week when he auctioned off 126 guitars and raised $21.5 million for ClientEarth, a non-profit environmental law group dedicated to fighting the global climate crisis, according to CNN.
The Trump administration ratcheted up its open hostility to climate science in a move that may hide essential information from the nation's farmers.
Police have cleared 250 climate activists who stayed overnight at the Garzweiler brown coal mine in western Germany, officials said Sunday.
By Megan Jones and Jennifer Solomon
The #MeToo movement has caused profound shake-ups at organizations across the U.S. in the last two years. So far, however, it has left many unresolved questions about how workplaces can be more inclusive and equitable for women and other diverse groups.
By Tara Lohan
By now it's no secret that plastic waste in our oceans is a global epidemic. When some of it washes ashore — plastic bottles, plastic bags, food wrappers — we get a stark reminder. And lately one part of this problem has been most glaring to volunteers who comb beaches picking up trash: cigarette butts.
Andrea Rodgers, second from the right, takes notes during a hearing in the Juliana v. U.S. case before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland, Oregon on June 4. Colleague Elizabeth Brown sits to her left, while colleague Julia Olson sits on her right, with co-council Philip Gregory on Julia's right. Robin Loznak / Our Children's Trust
By Fran Korten
On June 4, Andrea Rodgers was in the front row of attorneys sitting before a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court. The court session, held in Portland, Oregon, was to determine whether the climate change lawsuit (Juliana v. United States) brought by 21 young plaintiffs should be dismissed, as requested by the U.S. government, or go on to trial.