Sea levels to rise 20 feet if ice melting trend continues
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
March 23, 2006
New research says if current warming trends continue, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are on track to melt sooner than previously thought, leading to a global sea level rise of at least 20 feet.
"This is a real eye-opener set of results," said Jonathan T. Overpeck, a geoscientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson and co-author of the paper. "The last time the Arctic was significantly warmer than present day, the Greenland Ice Sheet melted back the equivalent of two to three meters (about six to ten feet) of sea level."
The study, conducted by researchers from the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the University of Arizona, the University of Colorado, and the University of Calgary, modeled its findings based on evidence collected from existing academic research on ice cores, ancient coral reefs, fossilized pollen, and cores from marine and lake sediments. The model suggests that during the past warming event, the Antarctic ice sheet also melted substantially, doubling the previously believed magnitude of rise in sea levels. By successfully recreating the last period of significant global warming using existing data, the scientists believe their model can forecast future climate change.
The red and pink areas in this image of the state of Florida indicate the areas that would be submerged if the sea level rose about 20 feet (six meters). Courtesy of Jeremy Weiss and Jonathan Overpeck, The University of Arizona.
Recent observations from NASA has confirmed that ice sheets are melting already. The new research suggests that the melting could accelerate, raising sea levels three feet (about one meter) or more per century. Such a rise could have a devastating impact on low-lying coastal cities which would be more susceptible to the impacts of storm surge as well as suffering from potential disruption of sewage and transit systems.
While changes 130,000 years ago were likely gradual and resulted from an increase in solar radiation over the Arctic, caused by slight changes in the Earth-Sun orbit, the current rise is temperatures is thought to result from increased anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, which have skyrocketed since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
The red and pink areas in this image of the coasts of the states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island indicate the areas that would be submerged if the sea level rose about 20 feet (six meters). Courtesy of Jeremy Weiss and Jonathan Overpeck, The University of Arizona.
An image of the area around New Orleans, La., with the water shown in blue. The portions of the image colored pink and red represent areas that would be submerged if sea level rose about three feet (one meter). Courtesy of Jeremy Weiss and Jonathan Overpeck, The University of Arizona.
Arctic, Antarctic Melting May Raise Sea Levels Faster than Expected
National Center for Atmospheric Research News Release
BOULDER—Ice sheets across both the Arctic and Antarctic could melt more quickly than expected this century, according to two studies that blend computer modeling with paleoclimate records. The studies, led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Arizona, show that Arctic summers by 2100 may be as warm as they were nearly 130,000 years ago, when sea levels eventually rose up to 20 feet (6 meters) higher than today.
Bette Otto-Bliesner (NCAR) and Jonathan Overpeck (University of Arizona) report on their new work in two papers appearing in the March 24 issue of Science. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, NCAR's primary sponsor. The study also involved researchers from the universities of Calgary and Colorado, the U.S. Geological Survey, and The Pennsylvania State University.
"Although the focus of our work is polar, the implications are global," says Otto-Bliesner. "These ice sheets have melted before and sea levels rose. The warmth needed isn't that much above present conditions."
The two studies show that greenhouse gas increases over the next century could warm the Arctic by 5-8°F (3-5°C) in summertime. This is roughly as warm as it was 130,000 years ago, between the most recent ice age and the previous one. The warm Arctic summers during the last interglacial period were caused by changes in Earth's tilt and orbit. The CCSM accurately captured that warming, which is mirrored in data from paleoclimate records.
This graphic shows the height of the Greenland ice sheet at present (left) and during the last interglacial (about 130,000 years ago), as simulated by the NCAR-based Community Climate System Model coupled with an ice-sheet model. (Illustration courtesy Bette Otto-Bliesner, NCAR.)
Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are melting find new studies 03/17/2006
Scientists have confirmed that climate warming is changing how much water remains locked in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, according to an article published in the Journal of Glaciology.
Global warming causing stronger hurricanes 03/16/2006
The link between warmer ocean temperatures and increasing intensity of hurricanes has been confirmed by scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Last year, two studies published in the journals Nature and Science found a strong correlation between rising tropical sea surface temperatures and an increase in the strength of hurricanes.
Record one-year increase in carbon dioxide levels 03/13/2006
Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels jumped 2.6 parts per million (ppm) in 2005, one of the largest increases on record according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Carbon dioxide levels now stand at 381 ppm, about 36 percent above pre-industrial levels.
Warming climate causing biological changes in the Arctic 03/10/2006
Physical changes--including rising air and seawater temperatures and decreasing seasonal ice cover--appear to be the cause of a series of biological changes in the northern Bering Sea ecosystem that could have long-range and irreversible effects on the animals that live there and on the people who depend on them for their livelihoods. In a paper published March 10 in the journal Science, a team of U.S. and Canadian researchers use data from long-term observations of physical properties and biological communities to conclude that previously documented physical changes in the Arctic in recent years are profoundly affecting Arctic life.
Slowing global warming may be less costly than initially thought 03/09/2006
Preventing carbon dioxide levels from rising to potentially dangerous levels could cost less far less than originally projected--less 1 percent of gross world product as of 2050--but a major shift in the way energy is found, transformed, transported and used will be necessary to prevent a severe energy crisis within the next century, say researchers from the The Earth Institute.
World temperatures highest in 1200 years 02/10/2006
World temperatures are higher than in any period over the last 1,200 years, according to a study published in the current issue of Science.
Global warming may cause 11-inch rise in sea levels by 2100 01/26/2006
Global warming will cause sea levels to rise up to 34 centimeters (11 inches) by the end of the century, causing increased flooding, worsening the impact of storms, damaging low-lying ecosystems, and accelerating coastal erosion, according to a new study by Australian researchers.
"Getting past climate change correct in these models gives us more confidence in their ability to predict future climate change," says Otto-Bliesner.
The CCSM suggests that during the interglacial period, meltwater from Greenland and other Arctic sources raised sea level by as much as 11 feet (3.5 meters), says Otto-Bliesner. However, coral records indicate that the sea level actually rose 13 to 20 feet (4-6 meters) or more. Overpeck concludes that Antarctic melting must have produced the remainder of the sea-level rise.
These studies are the first to link Arctic and Antarctic melting in the last interglacial period. Marine diatoms and beryllium isotopes found beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet indicate that parts of the ice disappeared at some point over the last several hundred thousand years.
Overpeck theorizes that the rise in sea levels produced by Arctic warming and melting could have helped destabilize ice shelves at the edge of the Antarctic ice sheet and led to their collapse. If such a process occurred today, it would be accelerated by global-scale greenhouse-induced warming year round, Overpeck says. In the Arctic, melting would likely be hastened by pollution that darkens snow and enables it to absorb more sunlight.
In the last few years sea level has begun rising more rapidly, now at a rate of about an inch per decade, says Overpeck. Recent studies have also found accelerated rates of glacial retreat along the margins of both the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets.
This article used information and quotes from news releases from the University of Arizona, the University of Calgary, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.