Melting of east Antarctic ice sheet could cripple major US cities

December 13, 2017

TAMPA, Fla (December 13, 2017)- The world's largest ice sheet may be less stable than previously thought, posing an even greater threat to Florida's coastline.

The first ever marine geologic survey of East Antarctica's Sabrina Coast, published this week in Nature, concludes that some regions of the massive East Antarctic Ice Sheet have been sensitive to climate change for millions of years. Much like the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, this region of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is grounded below sea level and local glaciers are experiencing ice mass loss due to ocean warming.

"Antarctica may seem far away from Florida, but all Floridians should care about what is happening in Antarctica," said co-lead author Dr. Amelia Shevenell, Associate Professor, University of South Florida, Tampa. "As ice melts, global sea levels rise. Most of Florida is at or several feet above sea level. We are already seeing the effects of rising seas caused by melting ice sheets and ocean warming. There is enough ice in our study region alone to raise global sea level by as much as 15 feet. This, in isolation, would be catastrophic to Florida."

Dr. Shevenell, co-author Sean Gulick, PhD, Research Professor, University of Texas at Austin, and their collaborators used marine seismic technology and ocean sediments to reconstruct the evolution of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet in the Sabrina Coast region over the past 50 million years. Their research found that during past warm climates, when atmospheric temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations were similar to or slightly higher than today, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet was much wetter and more unstable than it has been in the more recent past, when global climates were generally cooler.

"Today, a majority of Antarctica's ice mass loss occurs when warm ocean waters melt ice shelves and glaciers from below. Our records of surface-meltwater production during past warm climates indicate that in the future, Antarctica will also experience ice melt from above, as air temperatures warm and carbon dioxide increases," said Dr. Shevenell. "Thus, we might expect regional glaciers to become more unstable as atmosphere and ocean temperatures warm. This observation suggests that existing climate and ice sheet models likely underestimate East Antarctica's contribution to global sea level rise."
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which manages the United States Antarctic Program.

University of South Florida (USF Health)

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to