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West Antarctic Ice Sheet and CO2 greenhouse effect: a threat of disaster

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Abstract

Over 40 years ago, the glaciologist John Mercer warned that parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet were at risk of collapse due to the CO2 greenhouse effect. Mercer recognised the unique vulnerability of ice sheets resting on beds far below sea level (marine-based ice sheets), where an initial warming signal can initiate irreversible retreat. In this paper, we review recent work on evidence for ice sheet collapse in warmer periods of the recent geological past, the current behaviour of the ice sheet, and computer models used to predict future ice-sheet response to global warming. Much of this work points in the same direction: warming climates can indeed trigger collapse of marine-based portions of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and retreat in response to recent warming has brought parts of the ice sheet to the threshold of instability. Further retreat appears to be inevitable, but the rate of collapse depends critically on future emissions.
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-23
JournalScottish Geographical Journal
Volume136
Issue number1-4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 14 Feb 2021

    Research areas

  • Ice sheet instability, Antarctica, Climate change

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