“Every published projection of sea-level rise due to melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet that has been based on climate modeling, whether the projection extends to the end of this century or longer into the future, is going to have to be revised upward because of their work,” said Jerry X. Mitrovica, the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and a senior author on the paper “Every single one.”

Pan and Powell, both researchers in Mitrovica’s lab, started this research while working on another sea-level change project but switched to this one when they noticed more water expulsion from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet than they were expecting.

The researchers wanted to investigate how the expulsion mechanism affected sea-level change when the low viscosity, or the easy-flowing material of the Earth’s mantle beneath West Antarctica, is considered. When they incorporated this into their calculations they realized water expulsion occurred much faster than previous models had predicted.

“No matter what scenario we used for the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, we always found that this extra one meter of global sea-level rise took place,” Pan said.

The researchers hope their calculations show that, in order to accurately estimate global sea-level rise associated with melting ice sheets, scientists need to incorporate both the water-expulsion effect and the mantle’s low viscosity beneath Antarctica.

“Sea-level rise doesn’t stop when the ice stops melting,” Pan said. “The damage we are doing to our coastlines will continue for centuries.”

This study was partially supported by the Star-Friedman Challenge for Scientific Research, the National Science Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, NASA, the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canada Research Chair, and Fonds de Recherche du Québec–Nature et technologies.


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