A new study from University of Massachusetts Amherst and Pennsylvania State University researchers published in Nature suggests that recent estimates for future sea-level rises are too low, and that the actually estimates should be about twice as high previously proposed. The main factor in the new estimation—the melt of the Antarctic ice sheets.
“Antarctica has the potential to contribute more than a (meter) of sea-level rise by 2100 and more than 15 (m) by 2500, if emissions continue unabated,” the researchers wrote.
Study co-author Robert DeConto, a climate scientist, said the effects would be catastrophic for low-lying cities. As an example, he said Boston could see a five-foot sea-level rise in the next 100 years.
The new study updates estimates that were issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
According to the researchers, polar temperatures over the last several million years have, at times, been higher than today. Reconstructing sea-level rise during past warm periods, such as the previous inter-glacial (between 115,000 to 130,000 years ago) and the Pliocene epoch (around 3 million years ago), the researchers found that previous sea-levels were between one and 20 m higher than the level today.
“In both cases the Antarctic ice sheet has been implicated as the primary contributor, hinting at its future vulnerability,” the researchers added.
They said prolonged ocean warming could delay ice loss recovery for thousands of years.
“To date, research into Antarctic ice sheet vulnerability has focused on the role of the ocean, melting floating ice shelves from below,” the researchers explained in a statement. “The ice shelves that fringe the land-based ice hold back the flow of inland ice to the ocean. However, it is often overlooked that the major ice shelves in the Ross and Weddell seas and the many smaller shelves and ice tongues buttressing outlet glaciers are also vulnerable to atmospheric warming.”
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