Complete melting of the ice at the South Pole could raise global water levels by about five meters. Despite efforts to reduce emissions, millions of people’s lives are set to change in the coming years, according to research from the British Antarctic Survey.
The Antarctic ice cap will continue to melt. Even with the most ambitious emissions reduction targets, and therefore limiting temperature rises below one and a half degrees above pre-industrial levels, the huge mass of ice covering the western part of the continent of Antarctica will gradually shrink over the next century. An event that could have devastating consequences for rising water levels in the world. This is exactly what British Antarctic Survey modeling suggests, the results of which were recently published on the website Nature Climate Change.
The Antarctic ice cap is the largest mass of ice on our planet. It is divided into two parts: the eastern, resting on the protruding lands of the Antarctic continent, and the western, which has its base on the continental shelf, but below sea level. The Western Ice Cap is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change because it is in direct contact with ocean waters. Its complete melting could raise global water levels by around five metres, but above all it could cause the remaining Antarctic ice cap to collapse, with potentially devastating consequences.
That’s why climatologists and glaciologists have long been trying to understand the dynamics that influence the stability of the western ice sheet. It’s not an easy task, and British Antarctic Survey researchers decided to rely on Archer, the UK’s national supercomputer, to model how the situation might play out under different climate scenarios predicted by IPCC models.
Breakup is inevitable
According to their findings, the West Antarctic ice sheet will soon melt, despite our best efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades. In a worst-case scenario, in which future emissions remain unchanged, the rate of melting will obviously be faster. But even if humanity makes every effort to abandon the current model of fossil fuel-based energy production, thereby limiting the rise in temperature to below one and a half degrees, the waters of the Amundsen Sea (a stretch of ocean bordering western Antarctica) will warm three times faster than now. which will lead to increasingly rapid melting of the western ice sheet.
We must be ready
The study does not quantify the impact of melting ice on sea levels over the next century. But it sends an important message: our best efforts, no matter how necessary, to avoid even worse scenarios will not be enough to keep the planet’s coastal communities safe. Therefore, alongside climate change mitigation, targeted measures must be planned to ensure the safety of millions of people living in areas where seas and oceans may pose risks in the coming decades.
“It looks like we can no longer control the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet,” explains Caitlin Naughten, a British Antarctic Survey researcher who participated in the study. “If we wanted to save it, we would have to stop climate change.” Decades ago. The upside is that by immediately acknowledging the situation for what it is, the world will have more time to adapt to the rising sea levels we will face in the future. the years ahead can make a real difference.”