The continuous emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is the leading contributor to climate change. Gasses such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2) get trapped in the upper reaches of our planet, preventing heat from venting out into space. In turn, the planet is warming, causing the polar caps and glacial regions to melt at alarming rates.
Scientists have now warned if the present rates of emissions are allowed to continue, global seal levels could drastically rise by the end of the century.
A study published today (September 17), has found sustained emissions could see the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets contribute up to 11 inches (30cm) of water.
The large ice sheets hold enough frozen water to lift the world’s oceans by 213ft (65m).
The worrying results were published in the journal The Cryosphere.
Researchers from more than 60 institutions ran a number of ice loss models based on ocean salinity and temperature data.
The scientists focused on two scenarios: one where emissions continue at their present rates and one where they are drastically slashed by the end of 2100.
Under the high emission scenario, the study found Antarctica could contribute to about 11 inches (30cm) of sea-level rise.
The greatest loss would occur in West Antarctica, which could contribute up to 7.1 inches (18cm) of sea-level rise.
At the same time, the melting Greenland ice sheet would contribute about 3.5 inches (nine centimetres).
We just don’t know how bad it is going to get
Anders Levermann, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
However, the outlook is dire as even the lower emissions scenario predicts a significant rise in sea levels.
By 2100, the worlds’ oceans could rise by about one inch (three centimetres).
Anders Levermann, a climate and ice sheets expert at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said: “It’s not so surprising that if we warm the planet more, more ice will be lost.
“If we emit more carbon into the atmosphere we will have more ice loss in Greenland and Antarctic.
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“We have in our hands how fast we let sea levels rise and how much we let sea levels rise eventually.”
Since about 1880, the global mean sea level has already risen by eight to nine inches (21 to 24cm).
The rising sea levels have been attributed to melting ice sheets and glaciers as well as the thermal expansion of warming seawater.
Last year, for instance, the global sea level was about 3.4 inches (8.6cm) above the 1993 average – the highest noted annual average on satellite record.
According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), along parts of the US coast, high-tide flooding is not 300 to 900 percent more frequent than 50 years ago.
Another worrying study, published earlier this month in Nature Climate Change, found global warming threatens to raise sea levels by 15 inches (38cm).
The study warned the amount of polar ice lost between 2007 and 2017 matches some of the worst predictions set out by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The results published in Thursday’s study will help inform the findings of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report in 2022.
Professor Levermann said: “We already know that something will happen. We just don’t know how bad it is going to get.”
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