A new study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research reveals that a melting East Antarctic ice sheet could result in unstoppable sea-level rise for thousands of years. The report published in the journal Nature Climate Change is based on computer simulations of Antarctic ice flow using improved data of the ground profile underneath the ice sheet. “East Antarctica’s Wilkes Basin is like a bottle on a slant,” says lead-author Matthias Mengel – “once uncorked, it empties out.”

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The Wilkes Basin is the largest region of marine ice on rocky ground in East Antarctica. A rim of ice currently holds the ice in place like a cork. However the warming ocean could cause this “cork” to melt, unleashing a global sea level rise of between 300-400 cm. “The full sea-level rise would ultimately be up to 80 times bigger than the initial melting of the ice cork,” says co-author Anders Levermann.

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“Until recently, only West Antarctica was considered unstable, but now we know that its ten times bigger counterpart in the East might also be at risk,” says Levermann, who is head of PIK’s research area Global Adaptation Strategies and a lead-author of the most recent scientific assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC.

“If half of that ice loss occurred in the ice-cork region, then the discharge would begin. We have probably overestimated the stability of East Antarctica so far,” says Levermann.

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According to simulations, complete ice discharge from the affected region in East Antarctica could take five thousand to ten thousand years, however the team’s research shows the discharge would slowly but relentlessly continue until the whole basin is empt. The resulting sea rises would devastate the likes of New York, Mumbai and Tokyo.

“This is the underlying issue here”, says Matthias Mengel. “By emitting more and more greenhouse gases we might trigger responses now that we may not be able to stop in the future.”

+ Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

Via Huffington Post

Images via NASA HQ PHOTO and Kenners