Emissions Could Add 15 Inches to 2100 Sea Level Rise, NASA-led Study Finds

The new estimates project the impact that the planet’s melting ice sheets could have if greenhouse gas emissions continue apace.

An international effort that brought together more
than 60 ice, ocean, and atmosphere scientists from three dozen international institutions
has generated new estimates of how much of an impact Earth’s melting ice sheets
could have on global sea levels by 2100. If greenhouse gas emissions continue apace,
Greenland and Antarctica’s ice sheets could together contribute more than 15 inches
(38 centimeters) of global sea level rise – and that’s beyond the amount that has
already been set in motion by Earth’s warming climate.

Results from this effort are in line with projections
in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2019 Special Report on
Oceans and the Cryosphere. Meltwater from ice sheets contribute about a third of
the total global sea level rise. The IPCC report projected that Greenland would
contribute 3.1 to 10.6 inches (8 to 27 cm) to global sea level rise between 2000
and 2100 and Antarctica could contribute 1.2 to 11 inches (3 to 28 cm).

These new results, published this week in a special issue of the journal The Cryosphere, come from the Ice Sheet Model Intercomparison
Project (ISMIP6) led by NASA’s Goddard Space
Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The study is one of many efforts scientists
are involved in projecting the impact of a warming climate on melting ice sheets,
understanding its causes, and tracking sea level rise.

“One of the biggest uncertainties when it comes
to how much sea level will rise in the future is how much the ice sheets will contribute,”
said project leader and ice scientist Sophie Nowicki, now at the University at Buffalo
and formerly at NASA Goddard. “And how much the ice sheets contribute is really
dependent on what the climate will do.”

“The strength of ISMIP6 was to bring together
most of the ice sheet modeling groups around the world, and then connect with other
communities of ocean and atmospheric modelers as well, to better understand what
could happen to the ice sheets,” said Heiko Goelzer, a scientist from Utrecht
University in the Netherlands, now at NORCE Norwegian Research Centre in Norway.
Goelzer led the Greenland ice sheet ISMIP6 effort.

With warming air temperatures melting the surface
of the ice sheet and warming ocean temperatures causing ocean-terminating glaciers
to retreat, Greenland’s ice sheet is a significant contributor to sea level rise.
The ISMIP6 team investigated two different scenarios the
IPCC has set for future climate to predict sea level rise between 2015 and 2100:
one with carbon emissions increasing rapidly and another with lower emissions.

In the high emissions scenario, they found that the
Greenland ice sheet would lead to an additional global sea level rise of about 3.5
inches (9 cm) by 2100. In the lower-emissions scenario, the loss from the ice sheet
would raise global sea level by about 1.3 inches (3 cm). This is beyond what is
already destined to be lost from the ice sheet due to warming temperatures between
pre-industrial times and now; previous studies have estimated that “locked
in” contribution to global sea level rise by 2100 to be about a quarter-inch
(6 millimeters) for the Greenland ice sheet.

The ISMIP6 team also analyzed the Antarctic ice sheet
to understand how much ice melt from future climate change would add to sea level
rise, beyond what recent warming temperatures have already put in motion. Ice loss
from the Antarctic ice sheet is more difficult to predict: In the west, warm ocean
currents erode the bottom of large floating ice shelves, causing loss, while the
vast East Antarctic ice sheet can gain mass, as warmer temperatures cause increased

The results point to a greater range of possibilities,
from ice sheet change that decreases sea level by 3.1 in (7.8 cm), to increasing
it by 12 in (30 cm) by 2100, with different climate scenarios and climate model
inputs. The regional projections show the greatest loss in West Antarctica, responsible
for up to 7.1 in (18 cm) of sea level rise by 2100 in the warmest conditions, according
to the research.

“The Amundsen Sea region in West Antarctica
and Wilkes Land in East Antarctica are the two regions most sensitive to warming
ocean temperatures and changing currents, and will continue to lose large amounts
of ice,” said He?le?ne Seroussi, an ice scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Southern California. Seroussi led the Antarctic ice sheet modeling
in the ISMIP6 effort. “With these new results, we can focus our efforts in
the correct direction and know what needs to be worked on to continue improving
the projections.”

Different groups within the ISMIP6 community are
working on various aspects of the ice sheet modeling effort. All are designed to
better understand why the ice sheets are changing and to improve estimates of how
much ice sheets will contribute to sea level rise. Other recent ISMIP6 studies include:

“It took over six years of workshops and teleconferences
with scientists from around the world working on ice sheet, atmosphere, and ocean
modeling to build a community that was able to ultimately improve our sea level
rise projections,” Nowicki said. “The reason it worked is because the
polar community is small, and we’re all very keen on getting this problem of future
sea level right. We need to know these numbers.”

The new results will help inform the Sixth IPCC report
scheduled for release in 2022.

News Media Contact

Jake Richmond

Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.


Ian J. O’Neill / Jane J. Lee

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

818-354-2649 / 818-354-0307

ian.j.oneill@jpl.nasa.gov / jane.j.lee@jpl.nasa.gov

Written by Kate Ramsayer,
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center


Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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