Leading Antarctic Experts Offer Two Possible Views of Continent’s Future

UMass Amherst: News Archive

AMHERST, Mass. – The next 10 years will be critical for the future of Antarctica, and choices made will have long-lasting consequences, says an international group of award-winning Antarctic research scientists in a paper released today. It lays out two different plausible future scenarios for the continent and its Southern Ocean over the next 50 years.Writing in Nature, the authors are all winners of the Tinker-Muse Prize for Science and Policy in Antarctica and experts in such disciplines as biology, oceanography, glaciology, geophysics, climate science and policy.
Recent work by Rob DeConto, the 2016 winner of the Tinker prize and professor of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, includes findings in a 2016 paper also in Nature that highlights the potential for Antarctica to contribute much more sea level rise to the world’s oceans than previously considered. That work also highlights how reduced greenhouse gas emission can reduce the exposure of low-lying coastlines and cities to rising seas.
DeConto says, “Emerging science is pointing to more extreme worst-case scenarios with regards to sea level rise from Antarctica, but the good news is that a reduction in emissions, in line with the aspirations of the Paris Climate Agreement, dramatically reduces the risk of flooding our coastlines in future decades and centuries.”
He and his eight co-authors offer two alternative narratives on the future of Antarctica and surrounding ocean from the perspective of an observer looking back from 2070. The scenarios are “highly speculative,” they stress, not forecasts but intended as starting points for discussion. The narratives touch on long-term consequences of decisions made today for such variables as ice shelves, invasive species, sea ice, ocean and land ecosystems, mining and other human uses.
In the first scenario, “greenhouse gas emissions remained unchecked, the climate continued to warm,” and the policy responses are ineffective, with large ramifications in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and “worldwide …

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