A new study suggests that the West Antarctic ice sheet may disappear within the next 1,000 years in the wake of global warming. The Antarctic and Greenland are covered by ice sheets, which together store more than two thirds of the world's freshwater. As temperatures rise, ice masses melt; in consequence the global sea level rises and threatens the coastal regions.
"Given a business-as-usual scenario of global warming, the collapse of the West Antarctic could proceed very rapidly and the West Antarctic ice masses could completely disappear within the next 1,000 years," said one of the study authors, Johannes Sutter from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, Germany.
The Antarctic already today contributes to the annual sea level rise with 0.4 millimetres, as per scientific findings. “If the ocean temperature rises by more than two degrees Celsius compared with today, the marine-based West Antarctic ice sheet will be irreversibly lost. This will then lead to a significant Antarctic contribution to the sea level rise of some three to five metres," Sutter noted.
For the study, the researchers analysed the changes to the Antarctic ice sheet in the last interglacial period and applied their findings to future projections. The climate scientists used two models in their study. A climate model that includes various Earth system components such as atmosphere, oceans and vegetation, and a dynamic ice sheet model that includes all basic components of an ice sheet (floating ice shelves, grounded inland ice on the subsurface, the movement of the grounding line).
Two different simulations were used with the climate model for the last interglacial period to feed the ice sheet model with all the necessary climate information. The findings were published online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.