Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

  • 'One in 20' risk of ice sheet collapse

Shares
There is a 5 per cent chance of dramatic sea-level rise of up to one metre over the next century caused by the melting of the ice covering West Antarctica, according to an interdisciplinary panel of experts.

If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet — which contains 13 per cent of the continent’s ice — does disintegrate, it would double current estimates of sea-level rise, and could raise global sea levels by 5 metres over several centuries.
Ice field
The survey, carried out by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the Norwegian environmental safety organisation Det Norske Veritas, and published in the January issue of Climatic Change, is intended to give policy makers some basis on which to make decisions regarding climate change.

Although the possible break up of the ice sheet is part of a natural cycle, the dramatic sea-level rise that would be caused would exacerbate the effects of human-induced global warming.

Some commentators have argued that the significance of the study is that it reveals a relatively low probability of complete ice sheet collapse,

However, David Vaughan of the BAS, who led the research, describes the study as a “huge health warning”.

He adds: “The potential impacts of a major change in the West Antarctic ice sheet are severe — sea level rise will be fantastically expensive for developed nations with coastal cities and dire for poor populations in low-lying coastal areas.”

© SciDev.Net 2002

Related external links:

Abstract of paper in Climatic Change
British Antarctic Survey
Det Norske Veritas

Photo credit: NREL
Republish
We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.