Research ArticleCLIMATE CHANGE

Combustion of available fossil fuel resources sufficient to eliminate the Antarctic Ice Sheet

Science Advances  11 Sep 2015:
Vol. 1, no. 8, e1500589
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500589

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The Antarctic Ice Sheet stores water equivalent to 58 m in global sea-level rise. We show in simulations using the Parallel Ice Sheet Model that burning the currently attainable fossil fuel resources is sufficient to eliminate the ice sheet. With cumulative fossil fuel emissions of 10,000 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC), Antarctica is projected to become almost ice-free with an average contribution to sea-level rise exceeding 3 m per century during the first millennium. Consistent with recent observations and simulations, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet becomes unstable with 600 to 800 GtC of additional carbon emissions. Beyond this additional carbon release, the destabilization of ice basins in both West and East Antarctica results in a threshold increase in global sea level. Unabated carbon emissions thus threaten the Antarctic Ice Sheet in its entirety with associated sea-level rise that far exceeds that of all other possible sources.

  • Climate change
  • Sea-level rise
  • Antarctica
  • Carbon emissions

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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