PerspectiveClimate

Is ice sheet collapse in West Antarctica unstoppable?

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Science  02 Jun 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6341, pp. 910-911
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam9728

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Summary

Forty years ago, Mercer raised an alarm by connecting climate warming with collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) and substantial sea level rise in both the past and future (1). Since then, observations have proliferated, yielding improved understanding of ice sheet processes and making clear that the WAIS is highly vulnerable to future climate change (2). Yet, despite this progress, projections of the future rate of change can vary by a factor of 10 for the same climate warming scenario, producing different time scales for collapse; whether the model ice sheets collapse depends on the level of warming (3, 4). Better understanding of the different model outcomes can help to inform how we set greenhouse gas emissions goals and plan for future sea level rise.