According to a study published in Nature Climate Change, the melting of West Antarctica’s ice shelves is likely to significantly accelerate in the coming decades, even if the world meets climate targets. Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey warn that it could lead to rising sea levels.
The experts say that humans have lost control of the thinning ice shelves, which are essentially frozen ridges floating on the fringes of the main ice sheet that play a stabilizing role by holding back the flow of glaciers into the ocean.
Ice loss has been accelerating in the region over the past decades, and the scientists say that West Antarctica’s vast ice sheet, which contains enough water to raise ocean levels by several meters, is approaching its tipping point.
In the new study, the researchers used computer modeling and found that faster ice shelf melting is already inevitable in the coming years as ocean temperatures increase. The results remained virtually unchanged even in a scenario where greenhouse gas emissions are reduced and global warming remains within the ambitious Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times.
“It appears that we may have lost control of the West Antarctic ice shelf melting over the 21st century,” the experts concluded.