“This evidence leads us to conclude that the polar ice sheets are out of equilibrium with the present climate,” she said.
Dutton and an international team of scientists assessed evidence of higher sea levels during several periods to understand how polar ice sheets respond to warming. Combining computer models and observations from the geologic record, they found that during past periods with average temperatures 1 to 3 °C (1.8 to 5.4 °F) warmer than preindustrial levels, sea level peaked at least 20 feet higher than today.
“As the planet warms, the poles warm even faster, raising important questions about how ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica will respond,” she said. “While this amount of sea-level rise will not happen overnight, it is sobering to realize how sensitive the polar ice sheets are to temperatures that we are on path to reach within decades.”
The researchers concluded that sea levels rose 20 to 30 feet higher than present about 125,000 years ago, when global average temperature was 1 °C higher than preindustrial levels (similar to today’s average). Sea level peaked somewhere between 20 and 40 feet above present during an earlier warm period about 400,000 years ago, when global average temperatures are less certain, but estimated to be about 1 to 2 °C warmer than the preindustrial average....