more snowfall in Antarctica = more sea level rise, not less

posted by john byatt

Potsdam institute for Climate Impact reasearch

Since snowfall on the ice masses of Antarctica takes water out of the global water cycle, the continent’s net contribution to sea-level rise could be negative during the next 100 years — this is what a number of global and regional models suggest. The new findings indicate that this effect to a large extent is offset by changes in the ice-flow dynamics. Snow piling up on the ice is heavy and hence exerts pressure — the higher the ice the more pressure. Because additional snowfall elevates the grounded ice-sheet but less so the floating ice shelves, it flows more rapidly towards the coast of Antarctica where it eventually breaks off into icebergs and elevates sea level.
“Sea-level is rising — that is a fact”
A number of processes are relevant for ice-loss in Antarctica, most notably to sub-shelf melting caused by warming of the surrounding ocean water. These phenomena explain the already observed contribution to sea-level rise.
“We now know that snowfall in Antarctica will not save us from sea-level rise,” says second author Anders Levermann, research domain co-chair at PIK and a lead author of the sea-level change chapter of the upcoming IPCC’s 5th assessment report. “Sea level is rising — that is a fact. Now we need to understand how quickly we have to adapt our coastal infrastructure; and that depends on how much CO2 we keep emitting into the atmosphere,” Levermann concludes.

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