Study: Earth's Polar Ice Sheets Vulnerable to Even Moderate Global Warming


New Analysis Indicates Rising Sea Levels could be Far Worse than Previously Predicted

12/16/2009

An additional 2 degrees of global warming could commit the planet to 6 to 9 meters (20 to 30 feet) of long-term sea level rise.

A new analysis of the geological record of the Earth's sea level, carried out by scientists at Princeton and Harvard universities and published in the Dec. 16 issue of Nature, employs a novel statistical approach that reveals the planet's polar ice sheets are vulnerable to large-scale melting even under moderate global warming scenarios. Such melting would lead to a large and relatively rapid rise in global sea level.

According to the analysis, an additional 2 degrees of global warming could commit the planet to 6 to 9 meters (20 to 30 feet) of long-term sea level rise.

This rise would inundate low-lying coastal areas where hundreds of millions of people now reside. It would permanently submerge:

unless unprecedented and expensive coastal protection were undertaken.

And while the researchers' findings indicate that such a rise would likely take centuries to complete, if emissions of greenhouse gases are not abated, the planet could be committed during this century to a level of warming sufficient to trigger this outcome.

The study, "Probabilistic Assessment of Sea Level During the Last Interglacial Stage," was written by Robert Kopp, who conducted the work as a postdoctoral researcher in Princeton's Department of Geosciences and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; Frederik Simons, an assistant professor of geosciences at Princeton; Jerry Mitrovica, a professor of geophysics at Harvard; Adam Maloof, an assistant professor of geosciences at Princeton; and Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs in Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School.

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