The Antarctica Ice Sheet contains approximately 30 million cubic kilometres of ice, which is around 1,779,359 times the volume of Sydney Harbour. We'll just let that sink in for a little bit...
It's the largest single mass of ice on earth, and most of that ice is sitting on land - which means it has the potential to contribute to sea level rise if melted.
A new study published in Nature has found that if climate change continues, driven by continued greenhouse gas emissions, an unstoppable melting process might start in Antarctica, committing us to a long-term sea level rise of over 1 metre.
You can read the full study here, but we've pulled out some key highlights for you below:
- Unless substantial action is taken around the world to reduce human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, warming is likely to exceed 2°C above pre-industrial levels within this century.
- With this level of warming, and the associated warming of the oceans, it is very likely that many of the coastal ice shelves (the support-beams of Antarctica) will melt.
- Without this support, much of the Antarctic Ice Sheet will become unstable and will start a long-term sliding and melting process which will then continue regardless of whether we reduce our pollution or not.
- If this process starts, Antarctica will be committed to contributing substantially to long-term sea level rise.
- Under almost all the possible future pollution scenarios used in the study, the long-term sea level rise was greater than 1 metre.
- The only scenario which did not result in such a substantial sea level rise assumed that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions were significantly reduced: including a steady reduction in carbon dioxide from 2020 onwards, capturing more carbon dioxide than we’re emitting by 2100, and a 40% reduction in methane emissions.
To prevent substantial and unstoppable long-term ice loss and sea level rise, the world MUST take major action to reduce human greenhouse gas emissions.
Image credit: United Nations via Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0