Antarctic ice sheet doomed, with seas rising over 50m — report

14 Sep 2015

The Antarctic ice sheet is set to melt away entirely, forcing sea levels to rise by more than 50m — unless we stop burning our fossil fuels.

The claim is made in a piece of research from scientists that looked at the ongoing effects of global warming on our major bodies of ice.

The Antarctic ice sheet contains water equivalent to 58m in global sea-level rise, according to the report published in Science Advances, which is all at risk if we persist in burning all fossil fuels available to us.

At the rates predicted, the ice will melt quite fast, seeing water rising by 3m a century for the rest of the millennium, which could have disastrous effects on the planet.

Rising sea levels ‘mind-boggling’

“The mind-boggling point is that our actions today are changing the face of planet Earth as we know it, and will continue to do so for tens of thousands of years to come,” said lead author Ricarda Winkelmann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“If we want to avoid Antarctica becoming ice-free, we need to keep coal, gas and oil in the ground.”

The researchers looked at current rates of greenhouse gas emissions, and predicted the effects over time.

Burning all available fossil fuels that we know of would see 10,000bn tons of carbon emitted, with even a modest temperature increase of 2o proving very problematic.

Tokyo, Hong Kong and New York in trouble

The effects of global warming have not been as evident in the Antarctic as in the Arctic, with most of the ice remaining untroubled.

However, a tipping point has been reached in the west of the continent, with many scientists predicting an impending, dramatic reduction in its surface size.

The east, though, has so far appeared fine. But Winkelmann and his team think that, long term, we’re in trouble.

“The west Antarctic ice sheet may already have tipped into a state of unstoppable ice loss, whether as a result of human activity or not,” said co-author Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute.

“But if we want to pass on cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Calcutta, Hamburg or New York as our future heritage, we need to avoid a tipping in east Antarctica.”

Main image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic