skip to main content

Title: Future climate response to Antarctic Ice Sheet melt caused by anthropogenic warming
Meltwater and ice discharge from a retreating Antarctic Ice Sheet could have important impacts on future global climate. Here, we report on multi-century (present–2250) climate simulations performed using a coupled numerical model integrated under future greenhouse-gas emission scenarios IPCC RCP4.5 and RCP8.5, with meltwater and ice discharge provided by a dynamic-thermodynamic ice sheet model. Accounting for Antarctic discharge raises subsurface ocean temperatures by >1°C at the ice margin relative to simulations ignoring discharge. In contrast, expanded sea ice and 2° to 10°C cooler surface air and surface ocean temperatures in the Southern Ocean delay the increase of projected global mean anthropogenic warming through 2250. In addition, the projected loss of Arctic winter sea ice and weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation are delayed by several decades. Our results demonstrate a need to accurately account for meltwater input from ice sheets in order to make confident climate predictions.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Science Advances
Page Range / eLocation ID:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. The loss or thinning of buttressing ice shelves and accompanying changes in grounding-zone stress balance are commonly implicated as the primary trigger for grounding-line retreat, such as that observed in Amundsen Sea outlet glaciers today. Ice-shelf thinning is mostly attributed to the presence of warm ocean waters beneath the shelves. However, climate model projections show that summer air temperatures could soon exceed the threshold for widespread meltwater production on ice-shelf surfaces. This has serious implications for their future stability, because they are vulnerable to water-induced flexural stresses and water-aided crevasse penetration, termed ‘hydrofracturing’. Once initiated, the rate of shelf loss through hydrofracturing can far exceed that caused by sub-surface melting, and could result in the complete loss of some buttressing ice shelves, with marine grounding lines suddenly becoming calving ice fronts. In places where those exposed ice fronts are thick (>900m) and crevassed, deviatoric stresses can exceed the strength of the ice and the cliff face will fail mechanically, leading to rapid calving like that seen in analogous settings such as Jakobshavn on Greenland. Here we explore the implications of hydrofacturing and subsequent ice-cliff collapse in a warming climate, by parameterizing these processes in a hybrid ice sheet-shelf model. Model sensitivities to meltwater production and to ice-cliff calving rate (a function of cliff height above the stress balance threshold triggering brittle failure) are calibrated to match modern observations of calving and thinning. We find the potential for major ice-sheet retreat if global mean temperature rises more than ~2ºC above preindustrial. In the model, Antarctic calving rates at thick ice fronts are not allowed to exceed those observed in Greenland today. This may be a conservative assumption, considering the very different spatial scales of Antarctic outlets, such as Thwaites. Nonetheless, simulations following a ‘worst case’ RCP8.5 scenario produce rates of sea-level rise measured in cm per year by the end of this century. Clearly, the potential for brittle processes to deliver ice to the ocean, in addition to viscous and basal processes, needs to be better constrained through more complete, physically based representations of calving. 
    more » « less
  2. Observational evidence indicates that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is losing mass at an accelerated rate while ice sheet models highlight the potential for a significant ice collapse in the next century. The impacts of this large fresh water forcing on sea-ice formation, ocean circulation and climate could be significant, but to-date they have not been investigated using complex numerical models with realistic fresh water forcing and dynamical ice sheet models. Here, we present results from several climate model simulations performed under IPCC future climate scenarios RCP 4.5 and 8.5 with a high-resolution, fully coupled, ocean-atmosphere model (CESM 1.2). In each experiment, runoff from Antarctica is prescribed from a regional dynamic/thermodynamic ice sheet/shelf model. Our results highlight a significant rise in subsurface ocean temperatures (>1C) at the ice sheet grounding line that may accelerate rates of ice melt beyond those currently projected. In contrast, the increased runoff creates a cold surface layer that allows Antarctic sea ice to continue to expand through the end of the current century. It is vital that these processes are accounted for in the next generation of climate and ice sheet models. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Coupled global climate models (GCMs) generally fail to reproduce the observed sea‐surface temperature (SST) trend pattern since the 1980s. The model‐observation discrepancies may arise in part from the lack of realistic Antarctic ice‐sheet meltwater input in GCMs. Here we employ two sets of CESM1‐CAM5 simulations forced by anomalous Antarctic meltwater fluxes over 1980–2013 and through the 21st century. Both show a reduced global warming rate and an SST trend pattern that better resembles observations. The meltwater drives surface cooling in the Southern Ocean and the tropical southeast Pacific, in turn increasing low‐cloud cover and driving radiative feedbacks to become more stabilizing (corresponding to a lower effective climate sensitivity). These feedback changes can contribute as substantially as ocean heat uptake efficiency changes in reducing the global warming rate. Accurately projecting historical and future warming thus requires improved representation of Antarctic meltwater and its impacts.

    more » « less
  4. null (Ed.)
    Abstract. Ice flow models of the Antarctic ice sheet are commonly used to simulate its future evolution inresponse to different climate scenarios and assess the mass loss that would contribute tofuture sea level rise. However, there is currently no consensus on estimates of the future massbalance of the ice sheet, primarily because of differences in the representation of physicalprocesses, forcings employed and initial states of ice sheet models. This study presentsresults from ice flow model simulations from 13 international groups focusing on the evolutionof the Antarctic ice sheet during the period 2015–2100 as part of the Ice Sheet ModelIntercomparison for CMIP6 (ISMIP6). They are forced with outputs from a subset of models from theCoupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5), representative of the spread in climatemodel results. Simulations of the Antarctic ice sheet contribution to sea level rise in responseto increased warming during this period varies between −7.8 and 30.0 cm of sea level equivalent(SLE) under Representative ConcentrationPathway (RCP) 8.5 scenario forcing. These numbers are relative to a control experiment withconstant climate conditions and should therefore be added to the mass loss contribution underclimate conditions similar to present-day conditions over the same period. The simulated evolution of theWest Antarctic ice sheet varies widely among models, with an overall mass loss, up to 18.0 cm SLE, in response to changes in oceanic conditions. East Antarctica mass change varies between −6.1 and8.3 cm SLE in the simulations, with a significant increase in surface mass balance outweighingthe increased ice discharge under most RCP 8.5 scenario forcings. The inclusion of ice shelfcollapse, here assumed to be caused by large amounts of liquid water ponding at the surface ofice shelves, yields an additional simulated mass loss of 28 mm compared to simulations without iceshelf collapse. The largest sources of uncertainty come from the climate forcing, the ocean-induced melt rates, thecalibration of these melt rates based on oceanic conditions taken outside of ice shelf cavitiesand the ice sheet dynamic response to these oceanic changes. Results under RCP 2.6 scenario basedon two CMIP5 climate models show an additional mass loss of 0 and 3 cm of SLE on average compared tosimulations done under present-day conditions for the two CMIP5 forcings used and displaylimited mass gain in East Antarctica. 
    more » « less
  5. null (Ed.)
    This study presents near future (2020–2044) temperature and precipitation changes over the Antarctic Peninsula under the high-emission scenario (RCP8.5). We make use of historical and projected simulations from 19 global climate models (GCMs) participating in Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (CMIP5). We compare and contrast GCMs projections with two groups of regional climate model simulations (RCMs): (1) high resolution (15-km) simulations performed with Polar-WRF model forced with bias-corrected NCAR-CESM1 (NC-CORR) over the Antarctic Peninsula, (2) medium resolution (50-km) simulations of KNMI-RACMO21P forced with EC-EARTH (EC) obtained from the CORDEX-Antarctica. A further comparison of historical simulations (1981–2005) with respect to ERA5 reanalysis is also included for circulation patterns and near-surface temperature climatology. In general, both RCM boundary conditions represent well the main circulation patterns of the historical period. Nonetheless, there are important differences in projections such as a notable deepening and weakening of the Amundsen Sea Low in EC and NC-CORR, respectively. Mean annual near-surface temperatures are projected to increase by about 0.5–1.5 ◦ C across the entire peninsula. Temperature increase is more substantial in autumn and winter ( ∼ 2 ◦C). Following opposite circulation pattern changes, both EC and NC-CORR exhibit different warming rates, indicating a possible continuation of natural decadal variability. Although generally showing similar temperature changes, RCM projections show less warming and a smaller increase in melt days in the Larsen Ice Shelf compared to their respective driving fields. Regarding precipitation, there is a broad agreement among the simulations, indicating an increase in mean annual precipitation ( ∼ 5 to 10%). However, RCMs show some notable differences over the Larsen Ice Shelf where total precipitation decreases (for RACMO) and shows a small increase in rain frequency. We conclude that it seems still difficult to get consistent projections from GCMs for the Antarctic Peninsula as depicted in both RCM boundary conditions. In addition, dominant and common changes from the boundary conditions are largely evident in the RCM simulations. We argue that added value of RCM projections is driven by processes shaped by finer local details and different physics schemes that are introduced by RCMs, particularly over the Larsen Ice Shelf. 
    more » « less