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CAMBRIDGE, UK: British Antarctic Survey (BAS) research published this week says the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) cannot be stopped from melting no matter how much humans reduce or eliminate fossil fuel emissions.

As a result, Antarctica’s contribution to sea level rise will increase rapidly over the coming decades. WAIS contains enough ice to raise global mean sea level by up to five metres and is already contributing substantially to global sea-level rise with a loss of 80 billion tonnes of ice a year.

Scientists ran simulations on the UK’s national supercomputer to investigate ocean-driven melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. They concluded that even under the Paris Agreement limit of 1.5°C global temperature rise, melting will increase three times faster than during the 20th century.

Lead author of the report, BAS ocean ice climate modeller Dr. Kaitlin Naughten, commented: “It looks like we’ve lost control of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. If we wanted to preserve it in its historical state, we would have needed action on climate change decades ago.

“The bright side is that by recognising this situation in advance, the world will have more time to adapt to the sea level rise that’s coming. If you need to abandon or substantially re-engineer a coastal region, having 50 years lead time is going to make all the difference.”

The BAS research team simulated four future scenarios of the 21st century, plus one historical scenario from the previous century.

All of them resulted in significant and widespread future warming of the Amundsen Sea and the increased melting of its ice-shelves. Under the best-case scenario, it sped up by a factor of three.

Naughten added: “We must not stop working to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. What we do now will help to slow the rate of sea level rise in the long term. The slower the sea level changes, the easier it will be for governments and society to adapt to, even if it can’t be stopped.”

In 2020 a report by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) predicted a global temperature rise of 2.0°C would melt the WAIS and raise global sea level by 2.5 metres.
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