Dataset Open Access

Refining estimates of the commitment to global sea level rise over the next 500 years

Phipps, Steven J.; King, Matt A.; Roberts, Jason L.; Zhang, Xuebin

Within Australia alone, more than A$226 billion of coastal infrastructure is vulnerable to the anticipated rise in sea level by the end of the century. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report concludes that the likely increase in global mean sea level during the 21st century ranges from 26-55 centimetres (under the low-end RCP2.6 climate scenario) to 45-82 centimetres (under the high-end RCP8.5 climate scenario). However, these projections do not take into account the potential for collapse of the marine-based sectors of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Recent evidence has indicated that the IPCC projections may be under-estimates, with sea level increases of up to 2.5 metres possible by the end of the 21st century. Modelling studies have also demonstrated the potential for the Antarctic Ice Sheet to undergo irreversible collapse during the coming centuries. The most extreme prediction is that, under the RCP8.5 scenario, Antarctica alone could contribute 15.65±2.00 metres to global sea level by the year 2500.

Here, we combine climate modelling and ice sheet modelling to explore the evolution of the Antarctic Ice Sheet over the next 500 years under a range of climate scenarios. We run the models many times to account for gaps in our understanding of ice sheet dynamics, using our knowledge of past changes in the Antarctic Ice Sheet to identify the configurations that are plausible. This allows us to generate robust projections of the Antarctic contribution to global sea level from the present to the year 2500, complete with quantified confidence intervals.

We conclude that the sea level contribution during the 21st century will be modest, consistent with the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, but that melting of the Antarctic Ice Sheet will accelerate thereafter. We also conclude that previous studies have underestimated the range of uncertainty in projections of future global sea level rise.

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