Rapid Sea Level Rise Projected If Globe Warms By More Than 1.8° C

Rapid Sea Level Rise Projected If Globe Warms By More Than 1.8° C

(Image: 66 North/Unsplash)
A new study suggests that our previous methods of predicting climate change-related sea level rise were incorrect—and not how we’d like them to be. Enhanced computer models now project rapid sea level rise and Antarctic-Greenland ice sheet loss should the planet warm by more than 1.8 degrees Celsius rather than the 2 degrees Celsius previously calculated.

The simulations formerly used to measure climate change’s effects on sea level fail to account for one critical factor: melting ice sheets’ impact on ocean processes. As the Antarctic ice sheet (AIS) melts, reduced vertical heat exchange increases subsurface warming in the Southern (Antarctic) Ocean. This creates a chain reaction: Increased subsurface warming results in more sub-sheet melting, which makes it harder for ice shelves to shore up grounded ice. As the grounded ice melts, the sea level rises.

Recognizing the importance of this phenomenon in predicting sea level changes, a team of researchers from the United States, South Korea, and Australia sought to create an updated prediction model. Their supercomputer simulation couples the interactions between ice dynamics and thermodynamics with climate components for a more accurate look at sea level rise over time.

Ice off the coast of Ilulissat, Greenland. (Image: Alexander Hafemann/Unsplash)

According to their model, it’s vital that the planet not warm by more than 1.8 degrees Celsius to avoid irreversible ice shelf loss and a rapid rise in sea level. That’s 0.2 degrees lower than other models have previously predicted, meaning it’s all the direr that climate change prevention strategies are implemented and maintained in the coming years. The researchers say these strategies should focus on net-zero carbon by 2060.

“If we miss this emission goal, retreating ice sheets would continue to increase sea level by at least 100 centimeters within the next 130 years,” climate physicist and study co-author Axel Timmermann told Weather.com. “This would be on top of other contributions, such as the thermal expansion of ocean water.”

Timmermann’s and his colleagues’ work adds to a growing sense of urgency surrounding climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, and other environmental concerns. In 2021 the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasized that our collective failure to mitigate climate change presents a jarring “code red for humanity.” More recently, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its symbolic Doomsday Clock to 90 seconds to midnight—the closest to catastrophe it’s ever been—in part because of climate change.

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