Arctic, Antarctic Melting May Raise Sea Levels Faster than Expected

March 24, 2006

A research report compiled by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Arizona, has concluded that there is significant evidence that the “Arctic summers by 2100 may be as warm as they were nearly 130,000 years ago, when sea levels eventually rose up to 20 feet (6 meters) higher than today.”

The study, based on “computer modeling with paleoclimate records,” indicates that ice sheets across both the Arctic and Antarctic could melt more quickly than expected this century.

Scientists Bette Otto-Bliesner (NCAR) and Jonathan Overpeck (University of Arizona) reported on their new work in two papers appearing in the March 24 issue of Science. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, NCAR’s primary sponsor. The study also involved researchers from the universities of Calgary and Colorado, the U.S. Geological Survey, and The Pennsylvania State University.

NCAR’s bulletin announcing the studies findings notes: “Otto-Bliesner and Overpeck base their findings on data from ancient coral reefs, ice cores, and other natural climate records, as well as output from the NCAR-based Community Climate System Model (CCSM), a powerful tool for simulating past, present, and future climates.”

“Although the focus of our work is polar, the implications are global,” Otto-Bliesner stated, “these ice sheets have melted before and sea levels rose. The warmth needed isn’t that much above present conditions.”

The two studies also singled out the role that greenhouse gasses play in driving climate change. If they continue to increase over the next century, they “could warm the Arctic by 5-8°F (3-5°C) in summertime. This is roughly as warm as it was 130,000 years ago, between the most recent ice age and the previous one. The warm Arctic summers during the last interglacial period were caused by changes in Earth’s tilt and orbit. The CCSM accurately captured that warming, which is mirrored in data from paleoclimate records.”

More from the report and further information may be obtained on the NCAR Website at:

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