Get ready for climate change deniers to write some really annoying Facebook posts. Scientists have announced that one calculation regarding Antarctica's ice-melting rate is off-kilter. But that doesn't mean climate change is any less real or urgent.
In the past few years, as climate scientists and activists have hurried to get an accurate picture of how quickly we're killing ourselves and our Earth, various scenarios have been presented, many of them "worst case" scenarios. Scientists are now saying that one of those predictions, which posited that Antarctica might melt completely, and cause a drastic rise in sea levels during this century, may be implausible.
Previous research had concluded that sea levels could rise by as much as a meter, about 3.3 feet, by the year 2100, but the new research points to a less drastic rise—about 10 cm, almost 4 inches, in the same amount of time. Even a 30-cm rise, almost 12 inches, while possible, is only 20 percent likely, modeling indicates.
This is partly because of brute geography. The Antarctic's terrain is such that rapid melting and sloughing off into the ocean is very difficult. So the new research says less about the inarguable human contribution to global warming than about the topography of Antarctica. Still, it's good news as climatologists and policy-makers get an accurate picture about the emergency of climate change.
Scientists used the physics of Antarctica's bedrock formation, as well as satellite data, to come to their conclusions, which were published this week. Prior formulas relied on simulations of ice melting based on the best data at the time. But these new simulations are updated based on changes we've seen in melting rates over the last few decades. Such updated data hadn't been extrapolated before.
"People have done multiple simulations before, but what they haven't then done is see how well they compare with the present day, and put that into reweighting the predictions," summed up study co-author Dr. Tamsin Edwards of the U.K.-based Open University, to the BBC. "So, we take those [simulations] and compare them to what's happening now ... Nobody has really done this sort of formal scoring before."
The researchers, however, urge policy makers and citizens alike not to lose a sense of urgency about global warming.
"That's not to say that if things kept going for a few hundred or a thousand years you couldn't get that kind of dramatic collapse—but we don't think on the time frame of a couple of hundred years that the ice can respond that fast," explained Edwards.
"A couple of hundred years," of course, is the blink of an eye in Earth time. The average 26-year-old today would have seven generations of descendants by that time; a concerning figure, given that a year ago, only 28 percent of Americans called climate change "a major threat."
As Edwards puts it in a recent piece for The Guardian, "The results of our study might be surprising to some. But although it rules out very high rises, climate sceptics certainly shouldn't be dancing in the aisles."
The new research is published in the journal Nature.
Photo: Andreas Kambanis | Flickr