Studies question worst-case sea level rise, but lower rise ain’t great

The Stange ice shelf in Antarctica.

Enlarge / The Stange ice
shelf in Antarctica. (credit: Mark Brandon)

One of the most shocking climate science studies in recent years
came in 2016. That study, from David Pollard at Penn State and Rob
DeConto at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, showed that
adding a couple physical processes to their model of the Antarctic
ice sheets caused it to produce significantly more sea level rise
this century. In their simulation, shrinking Arctic glaciers raised
sea level by a full meter by 2100—and things only picked up from
there.

These simulations were much closer to hypotheses than to
iron-clad predictions. The model showed these processes—the
collapse of ice cliffs above a certain height and pressure-driven
wedging apart of ice crevasses by meltwater—could make a huge
difference. But such scenarios haven’t been studied well enough
in the real world to know if the model was representing them well.
Luckily, that task climbed the priority list after the work was
published.

A newly published study led by Tamsin Edwards at King’s
College London first dove into DeConto and Pollard’s simulations
for some clarity. This team thought they had a better way of
characterizing the range of results in the simulations to find the
highest probability answers. They didn’t have the supercomputer
time to repeat the simulations and add new ones, so instead they
“emulated” the simulations by representing the existing ones
with some statistics. That allows them to fill in the gaps between
the limited number of simulations.

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Studies question worst-case sea level rise, but lower rise ain’t great