The estimate of the global rise in sea level associated with the potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet has been greatly underestimated in previous studies, which means that the sea level in the world of warming will be higher than expected, according to a new study by researchers from Harvard University, in the United States. Published in the magazine ‘Science Advances“.
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The research offers new accounts of what researchers call the water repellent mechanism. This occurs when the solid base on which the ice sheet rests West Antarctica It bounces upward as the ice melts and the total weight of the ice sheet decreases. The bedrock is located below sea level, so when it rises, it pushes the surrounding water into the ocean, which contributes to the sea level rise.
The new projections show that, in the event of a complete collapse of the ice sheet, estimates of global sea level rise will be inflated by an additional one meter within 1,000 years.
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“The magnitude of the effect surprised us,” admits Linda Pan, a PhD in Earth and Planetary Sciences at GSAS, who co-led the study with her graduate partner, Evelyn Powell.
“If the West Antarctic ice sheet collapses, then the most cited estimate of the resulting global average sea level rise is 3.2 meters,” Powell said in a statement. “What we have shown is that the water flush mechanism will add an additional element. Meters, or 30%, of the total,” he added.
One simulation by Pan and Powell indicated that, by the end of this century, the rise in global sea level caused by melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet will increase by 20 percent due to the mechanism of water ejection.
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“All published projections of sea level rise due to melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet that are based on climate modeling, whether the projection extends to the end of this century or extends into the future, should have been revised upwards due to their work,” says Jerry X Mitrovica. Science Professor Frank B. Bird Jr. in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and lead author of the paper.
Pan and Powell, both researchers from the Mitrovica Laboratory, started this research while working on another project on changing sea level, but they turned it into this one when they noticed that the West Antarctic ice sheet was expelling more water than they expected.
The researchers wanted to look at how the ejection mechanism might change sea level if the low viscosity, or the ease with which materials flow from Earth’s mantle beneath West Antarctica, were taken into account. When they incorporated this lower viscosity into their calculations, they found that the repulsion of the water occurred much faster than previous models had predicted.
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“Regardless of the scenario we used for the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, we always found that there was an extra meter of global sea level rise,” Pan says.
The researchers hope their calculations show that in order to accurately estimate the global rise in sea level associated with melting ice sheets, scientists should incorporate both the water repellency effect and the lower mantle viscosity below Antarctica.
“The rise in sea level does not stop when the ice stops – Ban warns -. The damage we are causing to our coasts will continue for centuries.”
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