Runaway Antarctic Ice Sheet Collapse is Not Inevitable
A study published in Nature Communications reveals that runaway Antarctic ice sheet collapse isn’t inevitable. Instead, scientists are pointing to the possibility that a less dire simulation could have a slower impact on sea level.
The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is known to melt and re-form in a variety of ways, but it may be losing some of its ability to stabilize westerly winds. Its marine-based parts are also vulnerable to melting. If all of the WAIS were to degrade, sea levels would rise by about 3 meters.
Researchers have also studied how West Antarctica responds to climate change. Changes in offshore surface winds and the warming of deep ocean layers in the region are causing the ice to move away from the coast. In addition, changes in atmospheric conditions are slowing the rate of ice loss.
Scientists have also been studying the geologic record of the region to see how the ice sheets have changed in the past. They have found evidence that more stable ice sheets were present before the advent of the modern ice age.
While it’s not known how long it will take for the entire ice sheet to collapse, scientists say that it’s probably centuries or millennia. During this time, more ice will accumulate on top. This will delay the transition to a more rapid melt. However, when the ice finally liquefies, it could lift the oceans enough to redraw the map of the world.