Friday, December 18, 2015

Centuries of Melting Already Locked in for Polar Ice, Scientists Say

The village of Ilulissat is seen near the icebergs that broke off from the Jakobshavn Glacier on July 24, 2013 in Ilulissat, Greenland. Significantly greater sea level rise will occur with the melting of the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, giant masses of ice that are vulnerable to even a slight increase in temperature, a new study finds. (Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
The melting of polar ice sheets and mountain glaciers will likely continue for thousands of years, causing irreversible sea level rise, even if global warming is limited to 2 degrees Celsius, according to a new report published last week during the climate negotiations in Paris.

Sea levels could rise 13 to 33 feet or more unless far more ambitious steps are quickly taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report issued by the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, a nonprofit research and policy organization based in Burlington, Vermont.

"Even if we stopped all warming today and we stayed at this level, we are looking at about 1 meter [3.3 feet] of sea level rise by 2300," said Pam Pearson, lead author of the report and director of the ICCI, who presented her findings on the sidelines of the Paris talks.  "The temperatures that we are reaching even today, let alone in two or three or four decades, could lock in changes that aren't going to be reversible on a human timescale."

The findings show that achieving the ambitious goals set by the historic Paris Agreement won't be enough to avert catastrophic sea level rise and severe water shortages in areas dependent on glaciers.  The global climate accord set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions enough to hold global warming "well below" 2 degrees Celsius since the preindustrial period, setting a preferred limit of 1.5 degrees.  Earth has already warmed by more than 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since the 1850s.

"We are in a very high-risk zone at 2 degrees.  We can constrain that risk to some extent if we keep it down to 1.5 degrees, but the lower the better," Pearson said.

While success may head off the worst effects of climate change, it wouldn't stop the melting, according to the ICCI.

"Once the ice starts moving and we start losing the mass, there is nothing really to stop it unless you are able to take temperatures down below preindustrial levels," Pearson said.  "The impacts will be way down the line, but they will be determined this century."

The ICCI report is a summary of scientists' most current understanding of the cryosphere, regions of the planet that are covered in ice and snow, and was reviewed by more than two dozen of the world's leading cryosphere experts.

Part of the reason for the melting of polar ice sheets and glaciers is that climate change is happening in the cryosphere faster than anywhere else.  Parts of the Arctic, Antarctica and many mountain regions have warmed two to three times faster than the rest of the planet, or 2 to 3.5 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the report.

Read more at Centuries of Melting Already Locked in for Polar Ice, Scientists Say

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