Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Uncontrollable ice-melt? Uncorking East Antarctica could yield unstoppable sea-level rise, simulations show

Date:
May 5, 2014
Source:
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)
Summary:
The melting of a rather small ice volume on East Antarctica's shore could trigger a persistent ice discharge into the ocean, resulting in unstoppable sea-level rise for thousands of years to come. These findings are based on computer simulations of the Antarctic ice flow using improved data of the ground profile underneath the ice sheet.

New research finds that the melting of a rather small ice volume on East Antarctica's shore could trigger a persistent ice discharge into the ocean.
Credit: M. Martin/PIK

The melting of a rather small ice volume on East Antarctica's shore could trigger a persistent ice discharge into the ocean, resulting in unstoppable sea-level rise for thousands of years to come. This is shown in a study now published in Nature Climate Change by scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). The findings are based on computer simulations of the Antarctic ice flow using improved data of the ground profile underneath the ice sheet.

Related Articles


"East Antarctica's Wilkes Basin is like a bottle on a slant," says lead-author Matthias Mengel, "once uncorked, it empties out." The basin is the largest region of marine ice on rocky ground in East Antarctica. Currently a rim of ice at the coast holds the ice behind in place: like a cork holding back the content of a bottle. While the air over Antarctica remains cold, warming oceans can cause ice loss on the coast. Ice melting could make this relatively small cork disappear -- once lost, this would trigger a long term sea-level rise of 300-400 centimeters. "The full sea-level rise would ultimately be up to 80 times bigger than the initial melting of the ice cork," says co-author Anders Levermann.

"Until recently, only West Antarctica was considered unstable, but now we know that its ten times bigger counterpart in the East might also be at risk," says Levermann, who is head of PIK's research area Global Adaptation Strategies and a lead-author of the sea-level change chapter of the most recent scientific assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC. This report, published in late September, projects Antarctica's total sea level contribution to be up to 16 centimeters within this century. "If half of that ice loss occurred in the ice-cork region, then the discharge would begin. We have probably overestimated the stability of East Antarctica so far," says Levermann.

Emitting greenhouse-gases could start uncontrollable ice-melt

Melting would make the grounding line retreat -- this is where the ice on the continent meets the sea and starts to float. The rocky ground beneath the ice forms a huge inland sloping valley below sea-level. When the grounding line retreats from its current position on a ridge into the valley, the rim of the ice facing the ocean becomes higher than before. More ice is then pushed into the sea, eventually breaking off and melting. And the warmer it gets, the faster this happens.

Complete ice discharge from the affected region in East Antarctica takes five thousand to ten thousand years in the simulations. However, once started, the discharge would slowly but relentlessly continue until the whole basin is empty, even if climate warming stopped. "This is the underlying issue here," says Matthias Mengel. "By emitting more and more greenhouse gases we might trigger responses now that we may not be able to stop in the future." Such extensive sea level rise would change the face of planet Earth -- coastal cities such as Mumbai, Tokyo or New York are likely to be at risk.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. M. Mengel, A. Levermann. Ice plug prevents irreversible discharge from East Antarctica. Nature Climate Change, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE2226
  2. Anders Levermann, Jonathan L. Bamber, Sybren Drijfhout, Andrey Ganopolski, Winfried Haeberli, Neil R. P. Harris, Matthias Huss, Kirstin Krόger, Timothy M. Lenton, Ronald W. Lindsay, Dirk Notz, Peter Wadhams, Susanne Weber. Potential climatic transitions with profound impact on Europe. Climatic Change, 2011; 110 (3-4): 845 DOI: 10.1007/s10584-011-0126-5

Cite This Page:

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). "Uncontrollable ice-melt? Uncorking East Antarctica could yield unstoppable sea-level rise, simulations show." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140505104435.htm>.
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). (2014, May 5). Uncontrollable ice-melt? Uncorking East Antarctica could yield unstoppable sea-level rise, simulations show. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140505104435.htm
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). "Uncontrollable ice-melt? Uncorking East Antarctica could yield unstoppable sea-level rise, simulations show." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140505104435.htm (accessed October 30, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

Newsy (Oct. 30, 2014) — A frog noticed by a conservationist on New York's Staten Island has been confirmed as a new species after extensive study and genetic testing. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Hawaii Lava Approaching Village Road

Raw: Hawaii Lava Approaching Village Road

AP (Oct. 30, 2014) — The lava flow on the Big Island of Hawaii was 225 yards from Pahoa Village Road on Wednesday night. The lava is slowing down but still approaching the village. (Oct. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Endangered Carpathian Ponies Are Making a Comeback in Poland

Endangered Carpathian Ponies Are Making a Comeback in Poland

AFP (Oct. 29, 2014) — At the foot of the rugged Carpathian mountains near the Polish-Ukrainian border, ranchers and scientists are trying to protect the Carpathian pony, known as the Hucul in Polish. Duration: 02:17 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deadly Mudslide in Sri Lanka Buries Houses

Deadly Mudslide in Sri Lanka Buries Houses

AP (Oct. 29, 2014) — A mudslide triggered by monsoon rains buried scores of workers' houses at a tea plantation in central Sri Lanka on Wednesday, killing at least 10 people and leaving more than 250 missing, an official said. (Oct. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins