West Antarctica could melt away | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 03.11.2015
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West Antarctica could melt away

A new study warns of collapse at the South Pole: The giant ice crust of West Antarctica could disappear completely. This would mean an eventual 3-meter rise in global sea levels.

Scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research warned in a recent study that a tipping point may have been reached in the melting of West Antarctica's ice mass.

Even though the ice surface of West Antarctica has not changed for some time, this stability - according to the scientists - could tilt "fairly quickly."

The study was published November 2 in the United States National Academy of Sciences journal. These new results are consistent with those of past studies, which confirm that the stability of West Antarctica's ice crust in could be irrevocably disturbed.

Long-term consequences

"Our simulations showed that 60 years of melting at today's observable rate will initiate an unstoppable process of ice loss, which will go on for thousands of years," said Johannes Feldmann.

According to Feldmann, the lead author of the study, the gradual melting of the ice mass will eventually lead to a rise in sea level of at least 3 meters - in about 10,000 years.

"Of course, it will take a very long time for the ice crust to disappear - but the process is irreversible," Feldmann added.

Galerie - Extreme Natur

Large ice sheets in West Antarctica could disappear

Large parts of the ice sheet in West Antarctica rest on bedrock that lies below sea level.

With ocean warming and ice loss at the edges of the continent, land ice would be flushed with warmer seawater - accelerating ice loss in West Antarctica.

Cause not clear

The researchers made no statements regarding the cause for loss of stability in West Antarctica's ice crust in the study. Although greenhouse gas emissions and resulting global warming could have triggered this change, evidence for this is inconclusive.

Regardless, it is clear that continuing greenhouse gas emissions will increase the risk of ice system collapse in the West Antarctic along with resulting sea level rise, explained Anders Levermann, a co-author of the study who also worked at the World Climate Report (IPCC).

People should consider rapid CO2 reductions now, he added. "The slow rise of the sea level will eventually destroy coastal cities such as Hamburg and New York - and with that, part of our cultural heritage."

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