A study published Monday finds parts of Antarctica’s ice shelves are expected to melt in the coming years, no matter how much progress is made to slash greenhouse emissions and mitigate global warming.
The study was the first to model the effects of warm water impinging on ice shelves from below, which has already been found to be occurring in Antarctica.
The new research investigated what would happen to the critical ice shelves that protect the Antarctic interior from the surrounding ocean. If these shelves melt, glaciers further inland stand to eventually melt and slide into the ocean.
The study showed that even if warming were limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, there will be some degree of “unavoidable” runaway melting in western Antarctica.
“Our simulations suggest that we are now committed to the rapid increase in the rate of ocean warming and ice shelf melting over the rest of the century,” said lead author Kaitlin Naughten, an oceanographer at the British Antarctic Survey.
The study doesn’t measure how much ice might melt, or how quickly, or what effect it may have on sea levels.
But scientists agree that melting Antarctic ice already is and will continue to contribute to global sea level rise, which stands to affect people worldwide who live in low-lying and coastal areas.
Continued melting over the course of hundreds of years could eventually add as much as six feet to global sea levels, which would start to reshape continental coastlines and inundate swaths of low-lying cities.