Research Press Release

Climate change: Ice melting leads to additional global warming

Nature Communications

October 28, 2020

The melting of ice in polar and mountain regions around the world could lead to an additional 0.43 °C increase in global warming in the long term, according to a study published online in Nature Communications.

The loss of ice cover is known to influence air temperatures, for example through albedo changes (the amount of sunlight reflected from the Earth’s surface). Although the mechanisms that are responsible for increased warming are well understood, it is not clear how large the contributions of different ice sheets and feedback mechanisms to global temperature changes are.

Nico Wunderling and colleagues use a simplified Earth system model in combination with different CO2 concentration levels to provide such an estimate. They find an additional median warming of 0.43°C in response to the loss of all ice sheets at CO2 concentrations similar to today's (400 parts per million). The contributions from different ice masses range from 0.05°C for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to 0.19°C due to the loss of Arctic summer sea ice. However, these experiments do not consider changes in CO2 concentrations over time or feedback mechanisms that could have an impact on shorter time-scales. Furthermore, the authors note that this warming does not emerge over years or decades, but rather on a time-scale of centuries to millennia (although they highlight that the Arctic might become ice-free during the summer within the 21st century). Therefore, these results should be interpreted as idealized estimates of contributions of different ice sources and feedback mechanisms.

doi:10.1038/s41467-020-18934-3

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