Quantcast
Climate
Ilulissat, Greenland. Friederike Knauer / EyeEm / Getty Images

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.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
In a recent expedition, Gaelin Rosenwaks found plastic in the Great Blue Hole in Belize. Lomingen / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Inspiring Interview Urges You to Cut Plastic Consumption

2018 was the year for plastic pollution awareness. One good aspect of the plastic crisis is the fact that we can solve it. Getting involved with solutions is an easy way to have our voices heard globally.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Proterra is one of several companies manufacturing electric buses in California. Jeffrey D. Allred

Buses Are the Electric Vehicle Everyone Should Be Talking About. Here's Why.

By Adrian Martinez

Dean Florez is preparing for what he calls "one of the biggest votes I've ever taken" as an air regulator at an influential agency with national clout.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
A river cleanup in Union County, New Jersey. Paige Bollman / CC BY 2.0

Want to Help Endangered Species? Here’s How to Take Action Locally

One of the questions people ask me most often is what they can do locally to help endangered species. Well, I recently appeared on the Green Divas podcast to talk about that very subject. We discussed the horror of lawns, the danger of cars, great ways to volunteer, and other efforts you can take to make your neck of the woods a little bit safer for rare plants and wildlife.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Southern Resident killer whale mother and her calf swimming. NOAA

Washington Gov. Proposes 'Herculean Effort' to Save 74 Remaining Southern Resident Orcas

With only 74 left in the wild, the Southern Resident orca population in Puget Sound needs help now more than ever. That's why on Thursday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's office announced "an unprecedented investment" to help boost the population as well as the Chinook salmon they eat.

"We are undertaking a herculean effort to save these iconic creatures. It will take action at every level of the environment across our entire state," Inslee said in a news release. "We need to restore the ecosystem to one that sustains orcas, salmon and the quality of life for all Washingtonians."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Amber Lamoreaux / Pexels

Major UK Supermarket to Ban Glitter From Own-Brand Products

British supermarket Waitrose announced Friday that it will ban glitter from its own-brand products by Christmas 2020.

The upscale retailer said its labels, wrap, flowers, plants and other single-use items will either be glitter-free or use an environmentally friendly alternative.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Natural pine trees can liven up Christmas and the environment when they are replanted after. Cavan Images / Getty Images

5 Ways to Have a Green Christmas (and Help the Planet)

It's pretty common this time of year to hear the song White Christmas, but at EcoWatch we want folks to have a green Christmas. With a couple of tips, you can make sure your winter festivities have a smaller carbon footprint. Here are five ways you can have a more environmentally friendly holiday.

1. Give Green Gifts
Share your love of the planet by giving gifts that are good for the environment. Need ideas? The EcoWatch staff rounded up their favorite gifts, and USA Today highlights items such as iTunes gift cards, reusable straws, organic wine and non-toxic cosmetics in their story about purchasing green presents.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Kingborough Council

Tasmania Builds Road From Single-Use Plastics, Glass and Printer Toner

A local government in Tasmania found a clever way to recycle single-use plastics and other landfill-bound waste by building a new road.

The 500-meter (1,640-foot) stretch outside the city of Hobart is made of approximately 173,600 plastic bags and packaging, as well as 82,500 glass bottle equivalents diverted from landfill, the Kingborough council announced Tuesday.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Alchemy Goods / Bambaw / LuminAID

EcoWatch's Favorite Green Gifts for the Holidays

The holidays are coming and if you're stuck on what to give your eco-conscious friend or relative, we've got you covered. At EcoWatch, we're big fans of homemade presents, products that actually help the planet, and putting our dollars towards a good cause. This year, our staff has rounded up some of the best green gifts we've given and received, as well as the items on our wish list.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!