Projecting Antarctic ice discharge using response functions from SeaRISE ice-sheet models

A. Levermann, R. Winkelmann, S. Nowicki, J. L. Fastook, K. Frieler, R. Greve, H. H. Hellmer, M. A. Martin, M. Meinshausen, M. Mengel, A. J. Payne, D. Pollard, T. Sato, R. Timmermann, W. L. Wang and R. A. Bindschadler


The largest uncertainty in projections of future sea-level change results from the potentially changing dynamical ice discharge from Antarctica. Basal ice-shelf melting induced by a warming ocean has been identified as a major cause for additional ice flow across the grounding line. Here we attempt to estimate the uncertainty range of future ice discharge from Antarctica by combining uncertainty in the climatic forcing, the oceanic response and the ice-sheet model response. The uncertainty in the global mean temperature increase is obtained from historically constrained emulations with the MAGICC-6.0 (Model for the Assessment of Greenhouse gas Induced Climate Change) model. The oceanic forcing is derived from scaling of the subsurface with the atmospheric warming from 19 comprehensive climate models of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP-5) and two ocean models from the EU-project Ice2Sea. The dynamic ice-sheet response is derived from linear response functions for basal ice-shelf melting for four different Antarctic drainage regions using experiments from the Sea-level Response to Ice Sheet Evolution (SeaRISE) intercomparison project with five different Antarctic ice-sheet models. The resulting uncertainty range for the historic Antarctic contribution to global sea-level rise from 1992 to 2011 agrees with the observed contribution for this period if we use the three ice-sheet models with an explicit representation of ice-shelf dynamics and account for the time-delayed warming of the oceanic subsurface compared to the surface air temperature. The median of the additional ice loss for the 21st century is computed to 0.07 m (66% range: 0.020.14 m; 90% range: 0.00.23 m) of global sea-level equivalent for the low-emission RCP-2.6 (Representative Concentration Pathway) scenario and 0.09 m (66% range: 0.040.21 m; 90% range: 0.010.37 m) for the strongest RCP-8.5. Assuming no time delay between the atmospheric warming and the oceanic subsurface, these values increase to 0.09 m (66% range: 0.040.17 m; 90% range: 0.020.25 m) for RCP-2.6 and 0.15 m (66% range: 0.070.28 m; 90% range: 0.040.43 m) for RCP-8.5. All probability distributions are highly skewed towards high values. The applied ice-sheet models are coarse resolution with limitations in the representation of grounding-line motion. Within the constraints of the applied methods, the uncertainty induced from different ice-sheet models is smaller than that induced by the external forcing to the ice sheets.

Earth System Dynamics 5 (2), 271-293 (2014).

Last modified: 2014-08-14