Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Sea-level rise too big to be pumped away


Future sea-level rise is a problem probably too big to be solved even by unprecedented geo-engineering such as pumping water masses onto the Antarctic continent. The idea has been investigated by scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact. While the pumped water would certainly freeze to solid ice, the weight of it would speed up the ice-flow into the ocean at the Antarctic coast. To store the water for a millenium, it would have to be pumped at least 700 kilometer inland, the team found. Overall that would require more than one tenth of the present annual global energy supply to balance the current rate of sea-level rise.

“We explored a way to at least delay the rise of sea level we can no longer avoid by even the strictest climate-change mitigation strategies. This is estimated to reach about 40 cm by the end of the century,” says lead-author Katja Frieler.

Waves rolling towards the shore. Photo: thinkstock

“Our approach is definitely extreme, but so is the challenge of sea-level rise.” Burning fossil fuels leads to greenhouse-gas emissions that drive up global temperatures. Consequently, the thermal expansion of ocean water and the melting of glaciers and ice-sheets slowly raise sea levels, which will continue for millennia. Under unabated warming, sea level rise may exceed 130 centimeters by 2100.

+++Sacrificing Antarctica for saving Bangladesh?+++

“This is huge. Local adaptation, for instance building dikes, will not be physically possible or economically feasible everywhere,” Frieler says. “Protection may depend on your economic situation – so New York might be saved, but sadly not Bangladesh, and this clearly raises an equity issue,” she adds.

“Hence the interest in a universal protection measure. We wanted to check whether sacrificing the uninhabited Antarctic region might theoretically enable us to save populated shores around the world.” Rising oceans are already increasing storm surge risks, threatening millions of people worldwide, and in the long run can redraw the planet’s coastlines.

The scientists addressed the problem from an ice-dynamics perspective, using state-of-the-art computer simulations of Antarctica. Since the ice is continually moving, ocean water put on its surface can only delay sea-level rise – and if it is placed too close to the coast, ice-sheet mass loss and thus sea-level rise after some time could even increase, they found. As a consequence the water has to be pumped a long way inland onto the ice sheet.

+++“Even if this was feasible, it would only buy time”+++

The Antarctic ice sheet is up to 4000 meters high, and that would mean an inconceivable engineering effort. Pumping so much water that high up onto the ice sheet requires enormous amounts of energy. Antarctica is very windy, so the power for the pumping could in principle be generated by wind turbines – yet this would require building roughly 850.000 wind-energy plants onto the ice continent. The costs are expected to be much higher than those associated with local adaptation in other studies, though these measures by definition are limited in scope and scale, the scientists state.

“The magnitude of sea-level rise is so enormous, it turns out it is unlikely that any engineering approach imaginable can mitigate it,” concludes co-author Anders Levermann, head of Global Adaptation Strategies at PIK and scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. “Even if this was feasible, it would only buy time – when we stop the pumping one day, additional discharge from Antarctica will increase the rate of sea-level rise even beyond the warming-induced rate. This would mean putting another sea-level debt onto future generations.” Also, the most sensitive coastal ecosystems of Antarctica would of course be seriously affected by this measure.

+++Greenhouse-gas reductions, local coastal protection, and abandonment+++

If possible at all, delaying the rise by storing water on Antarctica would only show significant effects in a scenario of ambitious climate policy, strictly limiting global warming. “If we’d continue to do business as usual and churn out emissions,” says Levermann, “not even such an immense macro-adaptation project as storing water on Antarctica would suffice to limit long-term sea-level rise – more than 50 meters in the very long term without climate change mitigation. So either way, rapid greenhouse-gas emission reductions are indispensable if sea-level rise is to be kept manageable. In any way substantial investment into long-term local coastal protection will be required if we want to avoid a stepwise abandonment of coastal areas. ”

Article: Frieler, K., Mengel, M., Levermann, A. (2016): Delaying future sea-level rise by storing water in
Antarctica. Earth System Dynamics

Weblink to the article once it is published:

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

Jonas Viering | Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht UCI and NASA document accelerated glacier melting in West Antarctica
26.10.2016 | University of California - Irvine

nachricht Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere
25.10.2016 | American Geophysical 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: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>