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Study On Antarctic Ice Sheets Gives Insight Into Climatic Risks

Update Date: Feb 23, 2016 12:58 PM EST

Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) can impact the earth's ice sheets, says a new study by researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. They reconstructed the climate of Antarctica in the previous period, when CO2 levels were high, as they are expected to be in another 30 years.

 Scientists combined the findings on a companion paper on sediment core findings, and forecast that Antarctic ice sheets may undergo large changes at much lower levels of carbon dioxide exposure than has been thought of in earlier studies, according to HNGN.

The models created conditions as in early to mid-Miocene period, which is thought to be the last time that atmospheric CO2 levels were slightly higher at 500 parts per million (ppm), slightly more than the 400 ppm level achieved last year. Global average temperatures at that time were seen to be three to four degrees Celsius higher than the average of today.

Still, the melting Antarctic ice sheets are not expected to raise global sea levels at present.

"The ice sheets will take hundreds of years to respond, so although CO2 may be at the same level as during the Miocene in the next 30 years, it doesn't mean that they will melt in 30 years," Edward Gasson, who participated in the research, said in a press release.

Still, understanding the response of Antarctic ice sheets to warming is a huge goal and will help us take preventive measures so that the harmful effects can be reduced.

"We know that the Antarctic ice sheet will eventually melt if we burn all known fossil fuel reserves, raising sea levels by over 100 feet. What these two studies show is that the Antarctic ice sheet is also vulnerable to much lower levels of carbon dioxide than we thought possible before," he said.

The study was published in the Jan. 21,2016 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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