Antarctica: the fate of the largest ice cap “in our hands”

Antarctica: The fate of the largest ice cap « in our hands »


Global warming of more than two degrees could cause Antarctica's largest ice cap to melt enough to cause sea levels to rise by several meters, warn researchers, for whom the situation is still “in our hands”. 

Adopted at COP21, the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement aims to limit global warming to +1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial era. However, according to the World Meteorological Organization, the planet is heading more towards a warming of 2.5 to 3 degrees.

If warming continues to increase beyond the 2°C limit , the East Antarctic ice sheet could contribute to several meters of sea level rise in just a few centuries, indicates a study conducted by the University of Durham, United Kingdom, published on Wednesday.

Staying below this cape would allow this ice sheet to contribute less than half a meter to sea level rise by the year 2500, the authors point out, including scientists from the United Kingdom, d Australia and France.

“A key finding from our analysis is that the fate of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet remains largely in our hands,” said the study's lead author, Professor Chris Stokes, from the Department of Geography at Durham University.

“This ice cap is by far the largest on the planet, containing the equivalent of 52 meters of sea level, and it is really important not to wake this sleeping giant,” he added. 

The researchers, whose findings were published in the journal Nature, studied how the ice sheet responded to recent warm spells and examined where these changes are currently happening.

They also analyzed computer simulations to examine the effects of different levels of greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures on the ice sheet by the years 2100, 2300 and 2500.

“A A key lesson from the past is that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is very sensitive to even relatively modest warming scenarios. It's not as stable and protected as we thought before,” said Nerilie Abram, a professor at the Australian National University in Canberra.

She pointed out that there is now “a very small window of opportunity to rapidly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, limit the rise in global temperatures and preserve the East Antarctic Ice Sheet”.

According to the European Climate Change Service Copernicus, Antarctic sea ice last month reached its smallest July area on record in 44 years of satellite records.