Sunday, August 31, 2008

Faster rise in sea level predicted from melting Greenland ice sheet, based on lessons from Ice Age

Science Daily: If the lessons being learned by scientists about the demise of the last great North American ice sheet are correct, estimates of global sea level rise from a melting Greenland ice sheet may be seriously underestimated. Writing in the journal Nature Geoscience, a team of researchers led by University of Wisconsin-Madison geologist Anders Carlson reports that sea level rise from greenhouse-induced warming of the Greenland ice sheet could be double or triple current estimates over the next century.

"We're not talking about something catastrophic, but we could see a much bigger response in terms of sea level from the Greenland ice sheet over the next 100 years than what is currently predicted," says Carlson, a UW-Madison professor of geology and geophysics.

…Scientists have yet to agree on how much melting of the Greenland ice sheet — a terrestrial ice mass encompassing 1.7 million square kilometers — will contribute to changes in sea level. One reason, Carlson explains, is that in recorded history there is no precedent for the influence of climate change on a massive ice sheet.

"We've never seen an ice sheet disappear before, but here we have a record," says Carlson of the new study that combined a powerful computer model with marine and terrestrial records to provide a snapshot of how fast ice sheets can melt and raise sea level in a warmer world.

…According to the new study, rising sea levels up to a third of an inch per year or 1 to 2 feet over the course of a century are possible. Even slight rises in global sea level are problematic as a significant percentage of the world's human population — hundreds of millions of people — lives in areas that can be affected by rising seas. "For planning purposes, we should see the IPCC projections as conservative," Carlson says. "We think this is a very low estimate of what the Greenland ice sheet will contribute to sea level."….

Aerial photograph of an island just off the coast of Greenland, shot by Túrelio, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License. A version of this image in a higher resolution is available from the photographer (Túrelio).


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