Burning all of the world’s available fossil-fuel resources would result in the complete melting of the Antarctic ice sheet, a new study to be published in Science Advances shows. The Antarctic ice masses store water equivalent to more than 50 meters of sea-level rise.
The new calculations show that Antarctica’s long-term contribution to sea-level rise could likely be restricted to a few meters that could still be manageable, if global warming did not exceed 2 degrees. Crossing this threshold, however, would in the long run destabilize both West and East Antarctica – causing sea-level rise that would reshape coastal regions around the globe for millennia to come.
“If we were to burn all attainable fossil fuel resources, this would eliminate the Antarctic ice sheet and cause long-term global sea-level rise unprecedented in human history,” lead author Ricarda Winkelmann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research says.
“This would not happen overnight, but the mind-boggling point is that our actions today are changing the face of planet Earth as we know it, and will continue to do so for tens of thousands of years to come. If we want to avoid Antarctica to become ice-free, we need to keep coal, gas and oil in the ground”.
The long-term risk increases with every additional tenth of a degree of warming
“By using more and more fossil energy, we increase the risk of triggering changes that we may not be able to stop or reverse in the future,” co-author Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute explains.
“The West Antarctic ice sheet may already have tipped into a state of unstoppable ice loss, whether as a result of human activity or not. But if we want to pass on cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Calcutta, Hamburg or New York as our future heritage, we need to avoid a tipping in East Antarctica,” he says.
“The idea was to compute what we have already started by emitting greenhouse-gas emissions from burning coal or oil – and to analyze where that will take us in the future,” says co-author Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University. Burning all available fossil-fuel resources would result in carbon emissions of about 10,000 billion tons.
Assuming a pulse of carbon release, the scientists’ simulations show that Antarctica would lose ice over at least the next ten thousand years in response, with an average contribution to sea-level rise of up to three meters per century during the first millennium. Consistent with recent observations and simulations, the scientists also found that even if global warming would be limited to two degrees, this already raises the risk of destabilizing the West Antarctic ice sheet.
“And the risk increases with every additional tenth of a degree of warming, with unabated carbon emissions threatening the Antarctic Ice Sheet in its entirety,” Ken Caldeira concludes.
“An ice cube in a warming room”
The comprehensive simulations take into account the impacts of atmospheric and ocean warming on the Antarctic ice as well as feedback mechanisms that might speed up ice discharge and melting processes. Moreover, they consider phenomena like enhanced snowfall due to global warming that might offset some part of the ice loss.
Even though major modeling challenges remain, like imperfect datasets of Antarctic bedrock topography, the simulations are particularly well suited for the long-term projections of the continental-scale evolution of the ice sheet. “It is much easier to predict that an ice cube in a warming room is going to melt eventually than it is to say precisely how quickly it will vanish,” Winkelmann says.
Currently, Antarctica contributes less than 10 percent to global sea-level rise and hence is a minor contributor compared to the thermal expansion of the warming oceans and to the influx from melting mountain glaciers. However, Greenland and especially Antarctica with their huge ice volumes are expected to be the major contributors to long-term future sea-level rise.
“Our results show that the currently attainable carbon resources are sufficient to eliminate the Antarctic ice sheet and that major coastal cities are threatened at much lower amounts of cumulative emissions,” Winkelmann says. “In a world beyond two degrees, long-term sea-level rise would likely be dominated by ice loss from Antarctica.”
Article: Winkelmann, R., Levermann, A., Ridgwell, K., Caldeira, K. (2015): Combustion of available fossil-fuel resources sufficient to eliminate the Antarctic Ice Sheet. Science Advances
Link to the article once it is published: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/8/e1500589
PIK press office
Phone: +49 331 288 25 07
Mareike Schodder | Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung
Hidden river once flowed beneath Antarctic ice
22.08.2017 | Rice University
Greenland ice flow likely to speed up: New data assert glaciers move over sediment, which gets more slippery as it gets wetter
17.08.2017 | Swansea University
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
22.08.2017 | Health and Medicine
22.08.2017 | Materials Sciences
22.08.2017 | Life Sciences