Climate Science

More Than We Thought

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Science  24 Jan 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6169, pp. 352
DOI: 10.1126/science.343.6169.352-a

One of the most worrying impacts of climate warming is the sea-level rise caused by melting or collapse of the polar ice sheets. The Antarctic Ice Sheet contains enough water to raise sea level by roughly 60 m were it to melt completely. Most of the work done to determine the influence of warming on the Antarctic Ice Sheet has focused on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is thought to be the most unstable portion with respect to warming. Fogwill et al. consider the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS), which contains 90% of Antarctic ice, using a computer model to examine how much of that region may have melted or collapsed 135,000 to 116,000 years ago during the last interglacial, when the global average air temperature was about 2° C higher than it is now (a potential analog for the warmer climate of the next century). They focus particular attention on the effects of the Southern Hemisphere westerly winds on Southern Ocean circulation and the dynamics of the Antarctic ice sheet, concluding that the EAIS may have made a significantly greater contribution to sealevel rise over that period than currently is believed, with the implication that projected changes in the climate of the southern hemisphere may constitute a more serious threat to the future stability of the EAIS than has generally been appreciated until now.

J. Quat. Sci. 29, 91 (2014).

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