March 1, 2024

New study could improve predictions about sea level rise

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Main processes that influence the mass balance of the ice sheet. a, Weather, climate, hydrological and oceanic processes in Antarctica, including the flow of relatively warm water into the ocean (red arrows), ice flow (white arrows), incoming shortwave radiation (yellow arrows), and sublimation and evaporation (arrows dark blue). b, Same as in part a, but for Greenland, with the orange arrow indicating downward atmospheric movements (adiabatic warming) in the atmosphere and the light blue arrow indicating the flow of meltwater into the ocean. Greenland is dominated by atmospheric processes, while oceanic forcing predominates in the Antarctic ice sheet. Credit: Nature analyzes the earth and the environment (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s43017-023-00509-7

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Main processes that influence the mass balance of the ice sheet. a, Weather, climate, hydrological and oceanic processes in Antarctica, including the flow of relatively warm water into the ocean (red arrows), ice flow (white arrows), incoming shortwave radiation (yellow arrows), and sublimation and evaporation (arrows dark blue). b, Same as in part a, but for Greenland, with the orange arrow indicating downward atmospheric movements (adiabatic warming) in the atmosphere and the light blue arrow indicating the flow of meltwater into the ocean. Greenland is dominated by atmospheric processes, while oceanic forcing predominates in the Antarctic ice sheet. Credit: Nature analyzes the earth and the environment (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s43017-023-00509-7

A groundbreaking scientific study involving an international group of 29 ice sheet experts, and led by the University of Lincoln, in the United Kingdom, has identified that sea level rises related to global climate change could be better predicted through a better understanding clear of Antarctica and Greenland. ice sheets.

As one of the most pressing issues of our time, climate change has caused significant rises in sea levels. Attempting to accurately predict how much they will increase in the future is subject to ongoing analysis. A crucial factor in projecting future sea level rise is recognizing the changing nature of ice sheets.

Previously, ice sheets, the gigantic reserves of ice in Antarctica and Greenland that hold seawater, equivalent to a 65-meter increase in global sea level rise, were thought to be relatively static, sluggish, and slow. to respond to the climate. to change. However, the paper illustrates that these massive glaciers respond much more quickly and unexpectedly as the climate warms, in the same way that the frequency and intensity of hurricanes and heat waves change with the climate.

Ground-based and satellite observations and the development of climate models demonstrate that sudden heat waves and large storms can have long-lasting effects on ice sheets. This climate fluctuation can lead to extreme melt events, such as the Greenland ice sheet melting in July 2023, or cause ice shelves to disappear almost overnight, as happened with the ice shelf collapse Antarctic Conger in 2022.

Published in Nature analyzes the earth and the environmentThe research discusses the need to monitor timescales of changes in the behavior of ice sheets in the short and long term, to reduce uncertainty in future sea level rise projections.

The study highlights that predictions about sea level rise could be refined, to better prepare for the impacts of climate change. Glacial masses are subject to short-term fluctuations and extreme events over a wide range of time scales, from days to thousands of years, and as a result diverse knowledge must be gathered.

The international team of interdisciplinary scientists, led by Edward Hanna, Professor of Climate Science and Meteorology at the University of Lincoln, carried out a review of evidence obtained from observational data, geological records and computer model simulations.

A prominent aspect of the review indicates that short-term fluctuations in climate may have an amplifying “feedback” effect, meaning that ice sheets are more sensitive to climate change than previously thought.

Edward Hanna, Professor of Climate Science and Meteorology at the University of Lincoln, said: “How the giant ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland respond to ongoing climate change is crucial in determining the rate of sea level rise in the next decades and centuries.

“Ice sheet mass loss is not a simple uniform response to climate warming, but is punctuated by, for example, extreme short-term melt events (typically several days) and the catastrophic rupture of ice shelves along the coast, which can occur quickly disconnecting much larger amounts of ice from the interior.

“However, the patterns, processes and impacts of ice sheet variability on different time scales, from days to millennia, are not well understood. Failure to account for such variability can, in turn, result in biased loss projections future ice sheet mass over several decades. The time to act is now, and improving projections through collaborative efforts will help us pave the way to a more sustainable future.”

This review serves as a call to action, urging the scientific community to prioritize research efforts that will improve understanding of ice sheet variability. It is crucial that scientists, policymakers and stakeholders collaborate more closely to improve climate and ocean monitoring systems, refine models and ensure that ice sheet models accurately represent observed changes, research suggests.

More information:
Edward Hanna et al, Short- and long-term variability of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, Nature analyzes the earth and the environment (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s43017-023-00509-7

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