Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


More ice loss through snowfall on Antarctica

Stronger snowfall increases future ice discharge from Antarctica.

Global warming leads to more precipitation as warmer air holds more moisture – hence earlier research suggested the Antarctic ice sheet might grow under climate change. Now a study published in Nature shows that a lot of the ice gain due to increased snowfall is countered by an acceleration of ice-flow to the ocean. Thus Antarctica’s contribution to global sea-level rise is probably greater than hitherto estimated, the team of authors from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) concludes.

“Between 30 and 65 percent of the ice gain due to enhanced snowfall in Antarctica is countervailed by enhanced ice loss along the coastline,” says lead-author Ricarda Winkelmann. For the first time, an ensemble of ice-physics simulations shows that future ice discharge is increased up to three times because of additional precipitation in Antarctica under global warming. “The effect exceeds that of surface warming as well as that of basal ice-shelf melting,” Winkelmann says.

During the last decade, the Antarctic ice-sheet has lost volume at a rate comparable to that of Greenland. “The one certainty we have about Antarctica under global warming is that snowfall will increase,” Winkelmann explains. “Since surface melt might remain comparably small even under strong global warming, because Antarctica will still be a pretty chilly place, the big question is: How much more mass within the ice sheet will slowly but inexorably flow off Antarctica and contribute to sea-level rise, which is one of the major impacts of climate change.”

Since snowfall on the ice masses of Antarctica takes water out of the global water cycle, the continent’s net contribution to sea-level rise could be negative during the next 100 years – this is what a number of global and regional models suggest. The new findings indicate that this effect to a large extent is offset by changes in the ice-flow dynamics. Snow piling up on the ice is heavy and hence exerts pressure – the higher the ice the more pressure. Because additional snowfall elevates the grounded ice-sheet but less so the floating ice shelves, it flows more rapidly towards the coast of Antarctica where it eventually breaks off into icebergs and elevates sea level.

A number of processes are relevant for ice-loss in Antarctica, most notably to sub-shelf melting caused by warming of the surrounding ocean water. These phenomena explain the already observed contribution to sea-level rise.

“We now know that snowfall in Antarctica will not save us from sea-level rise,” says second author Anders Levermann, research domain co-chair at PIK and a lead author of the sea-level change chapter of the upcoming IPCC’s 5th assessment report. “Sea level is rising – that is a fact. Now we need to understand how quickly we have to adapt our coastal infrastructure; and that depends on how much CO2 we keep emitting into the atmosphere,” Levermann concludes.

Article: Winkelmann, R., Levermann, A., Martin, M.A., Frieler, K. (2012): Increased future ice discharge from Antarctica owing to higher snowfall. Nature [doi:10.1038/nature11616]

For further information please contact:
PIK press office
Phone: +49 331 288 25 07

Jonas Viering | PIK Potsdam
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Rapid plankton growth in ocean seen as sign of carbon dioxide loading
27.11.2015 | Johns Hopkins University

nachricht Revealing glacier flow with animated satellite images
26.11.2015 | European Geosciences Union

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

Im Focus: Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism

Heidelberg physicists use ultracold atoms to imitate the behaviour of electrons in a solid

Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Art Collection Deutsche Börse zeigt Ausstellung „Traces of Disorder“

21.10.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Siemens to supply 126 megawatts to onshore wind power plants in Scotland

27.11.2015 | Press release

Two decades of training students and experts in tracking infectious disease

27.11.2015 | Life Sciences

Coming to a monitor near you: A defect-free, molecule-thick film

27.11.2015 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>