The more ice is melted of the Antarctic Filchner-Ronne shelf, the more ice flows into the ocean and the more the region contributes to global sea-level rise. While this might seem obvious, it is no matter of course for the huge ice masses of Antarctica: parts of the ice continent are characterized by instabilities that, once triggered, can lead to persistent ice discharge into the ocean even without a further increase of warming - resulting in unstoppable long-term sea-level rise. In the Filchner-Ronne region however, ice-loss will likely not show such behavior, scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research now found.
Published in Nature Climate Change, their study shows that in this area the ice flow into the ocean increases just constantly with the heat provided by the ocean over time.
“While for other parts of Antarctica unstoppable long-term ice loss might be provoked by a single warming pulse, caused by nature itself or human action, ice loss in the Filchner-Ronne region increases directly with ocean warming,” lead author Matthias Mengel explains. “This is good news, because it is in our hands to determine how much the region contributes to the global sea-level rise.” Ocean warming results from greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, produced by humankind’s unabated burning of coal, oil and gas. Importantly, however, the oceans might not respond linearly to atmospheric warming, and not in the same way in all parts of the world. This includes the risk that ocean temperatures first lag behind, and then rise rapidly.
“Good news” – yet only compared to other parts of the ice continent
The Filchner-Ronne shelf covers an area bigger than Germany; its grounded-ice tributaries store water equivalent to a total of several meters of sea-level rise. “Our calculations show that this relatively small part of the Antarctic ice sheet within just 200 years of unabated climate change could contribute up to 40 centimeters to global sea-level rise,” says Mengel. “This kind of sea-level rise alone could already be enough to bring coastal cities like Hamburg into serious difficulties.”
“At present, most Antarctic ice shelves are surrounded by cold water masses near the freezing point,” co-author Anders Levermann says. “The topography around the ice continent acts as a barrier for heat and salt exchange with the northern warmer and saltier water masses, creating a cold water wall around the continent”. Projections of the breakdown of this front in ocean simulations for the Filchner-Ronne region under atmospheric warming raised concerns that such ocean instability might lead to unstoppable future ice loss also from this part of Antarctica, as is projected to occur in the Wilkes Basin region, for instance. “We found that this is not the case for the Filchner-Ronne shelf – which luckily means that we can still very well limit the ice loss in this area by limiting greenhouse gas emissions.”
Different mechanisms in different regions
Sea-level rise poses a challenge to coastal regions worldwide. While today sea-level rise is mainly caused by thermal expansion of the warming oceans, and by the melting of mountain glaciers, the major contributors to long-term future sea-level rise are expected to be Greenland and Antarctica with their vast ice sheets. The causes of ice loss differ greatly between the two. While on Greenland ice melting at the surface plays a large role, the Antarctic ice sheet loses almost all its ice through ice flow into the ocean. The simulation of the Antarctic ice flow is complex because the flow can become unstable. Ice shelves, the floating extensions of the ice sheet, can act as a break to the ice flow and inhibit instability. Warming oceans around Antarctica that melt the ice shelves therefore increase the risk of high sea-level rise.
The Parallel Ice Sheet Model, as used by the authors, resolves unstable grounding line retreat and simulates the flow of both the ice sheet and the ice shelves. It can therefore help to answer urgent questions as to the extent of Antarctica’s sea-level risks.
“It is more difficult to determine the risk that comes with global warming in parts of Antarctica that are considered unstable, and less difficult for the Filchner-Ronne region that responds linearly to global warming,” concludes Levermann. “One thing is clear: the more warming we cause by burning coal, gas and oil, the more expensive it will be for coastal regions to adapt.”
Article: Mengel, M., Feldmann, J., Levermann, A. (2015): Linear sea-level response of Antarctic tributaries to strong projected ocean warming underneath the Filchner-Ronne ice shelf. Nature Climate Change (Advance Online Publication) [DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2808]
Link to the article once it is published: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2808
Link to the previous study on the Wilkes Bassin, "Uncorking East Antarctica yields unstoppable sea-level rise":
PIK press office
Phone: +49 331 288 25 07
Jonas Viering | Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung
New Study Will Help Find the Best Locations for Thermal Power Stations in Iceland
19.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg
Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
20.01.2017 | Awards Funding
20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.01.2017 | Life Sciences