More advanced computer models show Antarctic melt may be less severe

A new study from The Open University indicates that the sea level rise from melting Antarctic ice sheets may be less than past studies have predicted.

REUTERS/Pauline Askin/Files
An Adelie penguin stands atop a block of melting ice near the French station at Dumont d’Urville in East Antarctica in this January 23, 2010 file photo.

The Antarctic ice sheet might not be melting as quickly as expected. That’s the message from a new study published by researchers at The Open University in Australia.

While the scientists do admit that the Antarctic ice sheet will continue to melt, their research indicates that the most that it could melt by the end of this century would be between 10cm and 30cm, with 30cm being the “upper limit,” or worst-case scenario. Previous studies placed the upper limit at 50cm or higher.

The scientists arrived at this new conclusion by running a computer model – based on ice-sheet loss data from west Antarctica, and projecting its structure up to and including the year 2200 – upwards of 3,000 times.

“[Other research has] taken a model and run it once, or a handful of times,” Dr. Tamsin Edwards, the Open University physicist who led the research alongside Catherine Ritz from Université Grenoble Alpes, told Tom Chivers of Buzzfeed News UK.

The researchers also suggest that other scientists’ past calculations, which projected a three-feet rise in sea level by 2100 and a four-and-a-half foot rise by 2200, are “implausible under current understanding of physical mechanisms and potential triggers.”

One of the biggest triggers, or factors, is the flows of warm water that have caused a decline in the West Antarctic ice sheet for the past several decades. But as Dr. Edwards writes in an opinion piece for the Guardian, there is still cause for skepticism:

“We don’t yet know if humans have made this more likely, and until now we also haven’t had confidence in predictions of how much sea level rise could result from this region and others that could become unstable from climate change.”

Still, Dr. Edwards and her colleagues acknowledge that there is more progress that needs to be made in understanding the processes that drive Antarctic ice-sheet melting. They are hopeful that improved computer models will be developed over time for that purpose.

“I look forward to the next generation of studies – and scientists – improving on our predictions,” Dr. Edwards writes.

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