Global Warming: West Antarctic Ice Sheet Risks Collapse

By on February 18, 2016

A critical question of climate research is: How much will global sea levels rise due to global warming effects and how quickly will that happen?

In a release from the Alfred Wegener Institute, researchers used climate models to determine that if global warming continues and temperatures go just 2 degrees Celsius higher, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is likely to collapse, risking a rapid sea level rise of several meters.

Scientists used two models in the study. A climate model was used which included atmosphere, oceans and vegetation. The other was a dynamic ice sheet model that included the major parts of an ice sheet, such as floating ice shelves, grounded inland ice on the subsurface and movement of the grounding line. Two different simulations were used in the climate model for the last interglacial period to give the ice sheet model appropriate information about climate.

But uncertainties still exist in modeling ice sheet behavior. Ice sheets don’t just rest on the continent, they can undergo dynamic shifts. These shifts, such as interactions between ice shelves and the ocean underneath, are not yet included in models.

Top image: West Antarctic. (Credit: J.B. Bird/Jackson School of Geosciences)

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