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Guess We Understand The Moon Better Than Climate On Earth

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New research warns if nations fail to meet Paris Climate Agreement targets, we risk awakening a “sleeping giant”. 

If countries throughout the world are successful in fulfilling the climate targets stated in the Paris Agreement, the worst effects of global warming on the greatest ice sheet in the world may be avoided.

An international group of climate scientists, including specialists from The Australian National University (ANU) and the Australian Centre for Excellence in Antarctic Science (ACEAS), have examined how much sea levels might rise if the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) were to melt as a result of climate change.

According to the team’s findings, which was published in Nature, the EAIS is expected to result in a sea level rise of less than half a meter by the year 2500 if global temperatures are kept to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. If the aims are not met, the EAIS alone could cause sea-level rise of up to five meters in the same time span.

The research team asserts that the EAIS, which contains the vast majority of Earth’s glacier ice, will probably not contribute to sea-level rise this century if greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced and just a slight increase in global warming is observed. However, the researchers assert that irreversible ice loss from West Antarctica or Greenland will still cause sea levels to rise.

Researchers warn that if nations don’t achieve the goals set forth in the Paris Climate Agreement, a “sleeping giant” may rise.

According to Professor Nerilie Abram, a co-author from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences, the EAIS is ten times bigger than West Antarctica and contains the equivalent of 52 meters of sea level.

“If temperatures rise above two degrees Celsius beyond 2100, sustained by high greenhouse gas emissions,” adds the co-author, “then East Antarctica alone could contribute around one to three meters to rising sea levels by 2300 and around two to five meters by 2500.” 

Our window of chance to protect the greatest ice sheet on Earth from the effects of climate change, according to Professor Abram, is rapidly disappearing.

“A key lesson from the past is that the EAIS is highly sensitive to even relatively modest warming scenarios. It isn’t as stable and protected as we once thought,” she adds.

Achieving and reaffirming our commitments under the Paris Agreement will not only safeguard the greatest ice sheet in the world but also prevent the melting of other sizable ice sheets, such West Antarctica and Greenland, which are more susceptible to global warming.

The University of New South Wales’ (UNSW) Professor Matthew England, a co-author, said the expected increase in sea level rise from the EAIS will add to rising sea levels brought on by ocean thermal expansion and ice melting elsewhere.

“Already, satellite observations show signs of thinning ice and its retreat,” he adds.

“Our models show that the rate of ocean warming will only increase dramatically if we don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” 

The University of Tasmania’s (UTas) Professor Matt King, a study co-author, said the findings shows how much more research is needed to learn more about East Antarctica.

“We understand the Moon better than East Antarctica. So, we don’t yet fully understand the climate risks that will emerge from this area,” adds Professor King.

To evaluate the effects of various amounts of projected greenhouse gas emissions on the ice sheet by the years 2100, 2300, and 2500, the researchers looked at how the EAIS responded to warm periods in Earth’s past and examined projections produced by previous studies.

The most current study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was released last year, states that since pre-industrial times, human activity has already elevated the average global temperature by around 1.1 degrees Celsius.

By keeping global warming far below two degrees Celsius, according to Professor Abram, we may avert the worst-case scenarios of global warming and even avert significant losses from the EAIS.

“We used to think East Antarctica was much less vulnerable to climate change, compared to the ice sheets in West Antarctica or Greenland, but we now know there are some areas of East Antarctica that are already showing signs of ice loss,” she adds.

“This means the fate of the world’s largest ice sheet very much remains in our hands.”

Image Credit: Getty

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