Sea levels could rise by up to half a metre in the next century if Antarctic ice keeps melting at the current rate, says researchers.
A new study from the University of Tasmania’s Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies found the ice sheet in Antarctica is melting faster than previous estimates.
The study, published in Reviews of Geophysics, was a collaborative effort that aimed to integrate all areas of Antarctic research in order to get a clear picture of what is happening at the southern continent.
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It found changes in ice sheet melting was primarily being driven by the interactions of the sheet with oceans.
IMAS lecturer and lead author Dr Taryn Noble said the report found significant changes in atmospheric and oceanic patterns which were associated with climate change.
“What this report shows that since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s last report in 2013 sea level rise coming from Antarctica those estimates have increased,” she said.
“So the worst case estimates for sea level rise … were about 10cm and since then we have had studies that have come out using new ice physics that show Antarctica could contribute about a metre to sea level rise.”
Dr Noble said a more conservative estimate would be about a 50cm rise in the next century.
She said that would impact countries who live or have ports at sea level.
“But also there is a lot of ecological implications that our report didn’t look at but that are important to consider,” Dr Noble said.
“The melting of the ice sheet will change the structure of the ocean, it will also make the formation of sea ice different and those difference might result in changes to the ecosystems around Antarctica.”
Dr Noble said slowing the melting would require removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
She said just reducing emissions wouldn’t be enough to address the current projections.
Australian National University Professor and paper co-author Eelco Rohling said the study compiled important data which would help improve the accuracy of projections relating to Antarctica and climate change.
“To validate the models used for such projections, we require a deep understanding of all the different drivers of ice sheet change,” he said.
“This includes time series data of past changes in the ice and surrounding environments.
“Field studies in and around Antarctica are challenged by hostile conditions, but it is only through a combination of modelling and data-based reconstructions that progress can be made.”
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