Evolving Understanding of Antarctic Ice‐Sheet Physics and Ambiguity in Probabilistic Sea‐Level Projections

Kopp, Robert E.; DeConto, Robert M.; Bader, Daniel A.; Hay, Carling C.; Horton, Radley M.; Kulp, Scott; Oppenheimer, Michael; Pollard, David; Strauss, Benjamin H.

Mechanisms such as ice‐shelf hydrofracturing and ice‐cliff collapse may rapidly increase discharge from marine‐based ice sheets. Here, we link a probabilistic framework for sea‐level projections to a small ensemble of Antarctic ice‐sheet (AIS) simulations incorporating these physical processes to explore their influence on global‐mean sea‐level (GMSL) and relative sea‐level (RSL). We compare the new projections to past results using expert assessment and structured expert elicitation about AIS changes. Under high greenhouse gas emissions (Representative Concentration Pathway [RCP] 8.5), median projected 21st century GMSL rise increases from 79 to 146 cm. Without protective measures, revised median RSL projections would by 2100 submerge land currently home to 153 million people, an increase of 44 million. The use of a physical model, rather than simple parameterizations assuming constant acceleration of ice loss, increases forcing sensitivity: overlap between the central 90% of simulations for 2100 for RCP 8.5 (93–243 cm) and RCP 2.6 (26–98 cm) is minimal. By 2300, the gap between median GMSL estimates for RCP 8.5 and RCP 2.6 reaches >10 m, with median RSL projections for RCP 8.5 jeopardizing land now occupied by 950 million people (versus 167 million for RCP 2.6). The minimal correlation between the contribution of AIS to GMSL by 2050 and that in 2100 and beyond implies current sea‐level observations cannot exclude future extreme outcomes. The sensitivity of post‐2050 projections to deeply uncertain physics highlights the need for robust decision and adaptive management frameworks.

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Earth's Future

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Academic Units
Center for Climate Systems Research
Published Here
January 24, 2019