Quantcast

Melting of Antarctic Ice Shelves Could Double by 2050, Dramatically Increasing Sea Level Rise

Climate

If countries act fast to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, according to new research, there is still time to curtail the most cataclysmic Antarctic ice melt.

This NASA photograph shows the collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf. Photo credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

However, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, if fossil fuel consumption maintains its current rate, Antarctica may experience a widespread collapse of its ice shelves, which could spur significant sea level rise.

Researchers employed a combination of satellite observations of ice surface melting and climate model simulations under scenarios of intermediate and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Under both emissions scenarios, by 2050, the models indicate a "strong potential" for the doubling of surface melting of Antarctica's ice shelves, which are the "floating extensions" of the continent's ice sheets.

When extended to 2100, the trajectories diverge, with the more intense scenario showing "ice sheet surface melting approaches or exceeds intensities associated with ice shelf collapse in the past" and the reduced-emissions scenario showing "relatively little increase in ice sheet melting" after 2050.

"The data presented in this study clearly show that climate policy and therefore the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions over the coming century, have an enormous control over the future fate of surface melting of Antarctic ice shelves, which we must consider when assessing their long-term stability and potential indirect contributions to sea level rise," said Clark University Associate Professor of Geography Karen Frey, who contributed to the study along with researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research at Utrecht University, and Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute.

Luke Trusel, lead author and postdoctoral scholar at WHOI, added that the results "illustrate just how rapidly melting in Antarctica can intensify in a warming climate."

As WHOI explains, ice shelves have a "door stop" effect on sea level rise, as they slow the flow of ice from glaciers and ice sheets into the ocean, where it melts.

The study follows a report last month which found that the Antarctic ice sheet would melt completely if all of the world's coal, oil and gas reserves were extracted and burned. Another, put forth by former NASA Scientist James Hansen this summer, argued that glacial melting will "likely" occur this century and could cause as much as a ten foot sea-level rise in as little as fifty years.

All of this comes in the lead-up to the United Nations climate talks in Paris beginning Nov. 30, during which international delegates are expected to cement an international climate agreement. However, countries on the front-lines of the most pressing climate impacts, such as sea level rise, are concerned that the pact will not go far enough to stem the worst effects of global warming.

Check out this interactive map that allows you to see the potential sea level rise on cities, depending on how the world acts on climate:

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

NATO: Climate Change Is Significant Security Threat and ‘Its Bite Is Already Being Felt’

House Passes Bill Lifting Oil Export Ban, Despite Veto Threat

Cities Hold the Key to Ensuring a Climate Safe World

Jared Leto Takes You on a 360º Virtual Tour to See First-Hand Effects of Climate Change

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Cigarette butt litter. Tavallai / CC BY-ND 2.0

By Dipika Kadaba

We've known for more than 50 years that smoking cigarettes comes with health hazards, but it turns out those discarded butts are harmful for the environment, too. Filtered cigarette butts, although small, contain dozens of chemicals, including arsenic and benzene. These toxins can leach into the ground or water, creating a potentially deadly situation for nearby birds, fish and other wildlife.

Read More Show Less
Thanasis Zovoilis / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Infants less than a year old should not be exposed to electronic screens, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

By Wenonah Hauter

Five years ago this week, an emergency manager appointed by then-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made the devastating decision to save money by switching Flint's water supply over from Detroit's water system to the Flint River. Seen as a temporary fix, the new water supply was not properly treated. High levels of lead leached from the old pipes, poisoning a generation of Flint's children, and bacteria responsible for an outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease killed more than a dozen residents.

Read More Show Less
Los Angeles-Long Beach, California is listed as the nation's smoggiest city. Pixabay

Seven million more Americans lived in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution between 2015 and 2017 than between 2014 and 2016, and climate change is partly to blame, Time reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
Kissing bug. Pavel Kirillov / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that the kissing bug, which can transmit a potentially deadly parasite, has spread to Delaware, ABC News reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
"Take the pledge today." Screenshot / StopFoodWasteDay.com

Did you know that more than a third of food is wasted or thrown away every year? And that only 25 percent of it would be enough to feed the 795 million undernourished people in the world? That's why today is Stop Food Waste Day, a chance to reflect on what you can do to waste less of the food you buy.

Stop Food Waste Day is an initiative of food service company Compass Group. It was launched first in the U.S, in 2017 and went global the year after, making today it's second worldwide celebration.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Berries are among the healthiest foods you can eat.

Read More Show Less
Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral on April 15 in Paris, France. Veronique de Viguerie / Getty Images

When Paris's Notre Dame caught fire on April 15, the flames threatened more than eight centuries of culture and history. The fire evoked shock, horror and grief worldwide. While the cathedral burned, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed determination to rebuild what the French regard as a sacred site.

Read More Show Less