Antarctic ice melting faster than expected Gentoo penguins stand on rocks near the Chilean station Bernardo O'Higgins, Antarctica. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Antarctic ice melting faster than expected
Lexile

Warmer air, less frigid water and gravity may combine to make parts of Antarctica's western ice sheet melt far faster than scientists had thought. Sea levels could rise much more than expected by the end of the century, according to a study.
 
New physics-based computer simulations forecast dramatic increases in melting in the vulnerable western edge of the continent. In a worst-case scenario, that could raise sea level in 2100 by 18 to 34 inches more than an international panel of climate scientists predicted. They made that prediction just three years ago.
 
And even if the countries of the world control heat-trapping gases at the moderate levels they pledged in Paris last year, it would still mean three to 12 inches higher seas than have been forecast. This is according to a study published March 30 in the journal Nature.
 
By the year 2500, in the worst-case scenario, the simulations predict seas 42 feet higher, purely from Antarctic melt.
 
"You're remapping the way the planet looks from space with those numbers, not just subtle changes," said study lead author Robert DeConto, a climate scientist at the University of Massachusetts.
 
This is all because Antarctica is one of the biggest wild cards when scientists try to assess the effects of man-made climate change in upcoming decades. Scientists were caught by surprise when the western portion of the continent started showing signs of rapid ice loss in the last 10 years or so.
 
The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has not forecast much sea level rise from Antarctica. Its last report predicted just seven inches by 2100. For this century, the panel saw water expanding from heat, glacier melt and Greenland ice sheet loss as bigger factors.
 
Instead of 7 inches, DeConto's simulations forecast sea level rise from Antarctica's melt alone as 2 to 3 feet in the worst-case scenario. The estimate is 10 to 19 inches if greenhouse gas emissions are moderately controlled. And if the world cracks down more dramatically on heat-trapping gases, Antarctica would essentially not add anything to sea level rise, the study said.
 
Those figures are just worldwide averages. In many places on the East Coast, like Boston, it could be 25 percent more than that because of geological conditions, DeConto said.
 
"North America has a lot to fear from ice loss from West Antarctica, which is where it all begins," DeConto said.
 
While other studies have looked at the effect of warming from water below ice sheets and the air that melts from above, DeConto adds in the effect of pooling water and giant ice cliffs. Those ice cliffs, which can be dozens and even hundreds of feet high, can then collapse from the sheer weight of ice. That hastens glacier and ice sheet retreat, he said.
 
Ted Scambos at the University of Colorado, who wasn't part of the new study, said it was plausible and used "a few simple yet under-appreciated factors regarding ice retreat."
 
Carnegie Institute climate scientist Chris Field said the study drives home the difference the world can make by controlling its greenhouse gas emissions. It's the difference between rising seas that can be managed and conditions that are "dangerously risky," he said.

Filed Under:  
Assigned 57 times
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is Antarctica “one of the biggest wildcards?”
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (15)
  • briannec-ste
    4/13/2016 - 02:01 p.m.

    It is bad that the ice caps are melting and the sea levels are rising, that could also mean that it could go only the land. If the water continues to rise there will be no land in the future.

  • ShawnaWeiser-Ste
    4/14/2016 - 01:58 p.m.

    This is terrible. Not only are animals in the poles losing their homes but we will eventually lose our homes too because of the all the ice melting. We will be losing land and gaining people, just the opposite of what we need.

  • seana-lam
    4/19/2016 - 02:23 p.m.

    I personally care very much about the environment because the Earth will kill us if we kill it. I think that world leaders need to angle themselves towards the environment that way it's not as much my generations problem in the future. In other words I don't want to clean up the adult's mess.

  • gabid-lam
    4/19/2016 - 02:26 p.m.

    I feel like what is happening in Antarctica, the rising sea levels, the ice caps melting and innocent animals losing their lives, is mother nature screaming at us for attention and that soon it will be too late and humans won't be able to fix what they destroyed.

  • ravend-bag
    4/19/2016 - 07:19 p.m.

    Antarctica is one of the biggest wild cards when scientists try to assess the effects of man-made climate change in upcoming decades.

  • Steve0620-yyca
    4/27/2016 - 07:56 p.m.

    Many scientists have studied the climate and predicted what will happen. If the ice keeps on melting, the sea level will rise. There are different predictions about how much feet or inches the water will rise and what some changes can cause. Warmer air, less frigid water, and gravity are some factors that can contribute to the water rising.
    I think that Antarctica is "one of the biggest wildcards" because since it is a huge land of ice, if it melts, it can cause the water level to rise a lot.

  • martham-edg
    6/07/2016 - 03:27 p.m.

    Ah, this is quite a terrifying thing to think about. The ice is melting and I am very sure its not good for any living thing on earth.

  • gabrielp-edg
    6/07/2016 - 03:30 p.m.

    Global warming is a serious problem , yes agree

  • hannaha-edg
    6/07/2016 - 03:35 p.m.

    by seeing all the rapid ice loss

  • moniqueh-edg
    6/07/2016 - 03:36 p.m.

    Its kind of scary knowing that we are destroying natural things. Its been there since the beginning of time and now its things are getting worse and worse and it probably has a lot to do with us humans.

Take the Quiz Leave a comment
ADVERTISEMENT