Antarctica dominates uncertainty in projected land ice contribution to sea level rise this century

T. L. Edwards, T. L., S. Nowicki, B. Marzeion, R. Hock, H. Goelzer, H. Seroussi, C. J. Smith, N. C. Jourdain, D. Slater, C. M. McKenna, E. Simon, A. Abe-Ouchi, J. M. Gregory, E. Larour, W. H. Lipscomb, A. J. Payne, A. Shepherd, F. Turner, C. Agosta, P. Alexander, T. Albrecht, B. Anderson, X. Asay-Davis, A. Aschwanden, A. Barthel, A. Bliss, R. Calov, C. Chambers, N. Champollion, Y. Choi, R. Cullather, J. Cuzzone, C. Dumas, D. Felikson, X. Fettweis, K. Fujita, B. K. Galton-Fenzi, R. Gladstone, N. R. Golledge, R. Greve, T. Hattermann, M. J. Hoffman, A. Humbert, M. Huss, P. Huybrechts, W. Immerzeel, T. Kleiner, P. Kraaijenbrink, S. Le clec'h, V. Lee, G. R. Leguy, C. M. Little, D. P. Lowry, J.-H. Malles, D. F. Martin, F. Maussion, M. Morlighem, J. F. O'Neill, I. Nias, F. Pattyn, T. Pelle, S. Price, A. Quiquet, V. Radić, R. Reese, D. R. Rounce, M. Rückamp, A. Sakai, C. Shafer, N.-J. Schlegel, S. Shannon, R. S. Smith, F. Straneo, S. Sun, L. Tarasov, L. D. Trusel, J. Van Breedam, R. van de Wal, M. van den Broeke, R. Winkelmann, H. Zekollari, C. Zhao, T. Zhang and T. Zwinger


The land ice contribution to global mean sea level rise has not yet been predicted with ice sheet and glacier models for the latest set of socio-economic scenarios, nor with coordinated exploration of uncertainties arising from the various computer models involved. Two recent international projects generated a large suite of projections using multiple models, but mostly used previous generation scenarios and climate models, and could not fully explore known uncertainties. Here we estimate probability distributions for these projections under the new scenarios using statistical emulation of the ice sheet and glacier models, and find that limiting global warming to 1.5°C since preindustrial would halve the land ice contribution to sea level rise this century, relative to predictions for current climate pledges under the Paris Agreement: the median decreases from 25 to 13 cm sea level equivalent (SLE) by 2100, with glaciers responsible for half the sea level contribution. The Antarctic contribution does not show a clear response to emissions scenario, due to competing processes of increasing ice loss and snowfall accumulation in a warming climate. However, under risk-averse (pessimistic) assumptions, Antarctic ice loss could be five times higher, increasing the median land ice contribution to 42 cm SLE under current policies and pledges, with the upper end (95th percentile) exceeding half a metre even under 1.5°C warming. This would severely limit the possibility of mitigating future coastal flooding. Until climate policies and the Antarctic response are further constrained, adaptation must therefore plan for a factor of three uncertainty in the land ice contribution to global mean sea level rise.

Nature (submitted).

Last modified: 2021-01-11