Burning all fossil energy…

F4.large…would raise sea-level by more than 50 meters – and eliminate all ice of Antarctica 

Press Release by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research


Burning all of the world’s available fossil-fuel resources would result in the complete melting of the Antarctic ice sheet, a new study published in Science Advances shows. The Antarctic ice masses store water equivalent to more than 50 meters of sea-level rise. The new calculations show that Antarctica’s long-term contribution to sea-level rise could likely be restricted to a few meters that could still be manageable, if global warming did not exceed 2 degrees. Crossing this threshold, however, would in the long run destabilize both West and East Antarctica – causing sea-level rise that would reshape coastal regions around the globe for millennia to come.
“If we were to burn all attainable fossil fuel resources, this would eliminate the Antarctic ice sheet and cause long-term global sea-level rise unprecedented in human history,” lead author Ricarda Winkelmann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research says. “This would not happen overnight, but the mind-boggling point is that our actions today are changing the face of planet Earth as we know it, and will continue to do so for tens of thousands of years to come. If we want to avoid Antarctica to become ice-free, we need to keep coal, gas and oil in the ground”.

The long-term risk increases with every additional tenth of a degree of warming“By using more and more fossil energy, we increase the risk of triggering changes that we may not be able to stop or reverse in the future,” co-author Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute explains. “The West Antarctic ice sheet may already have tipped into a state of unstoppable ice loss, whether as a result of human activity or not. But if we want to pass on cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Calcutta, Hamburg or New York as our future heritage, we need to avoid a tipping in East Antarctica,” he says.

“The idea was to compute what we have already started by emitting greenhouse-gas emissions from burning coal or oil – and to analyze where that will take us in the future,” says co-author Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University. Burning all available fossil-fuel resources would result in carbon emissions of about 10,000 billion tons. Assuming a pulse of carbon release, the scientists’ simulations show that Antarctica would lose ice over at least the next ten thousand years in response, with an average contribution to sea-level rise of up to three meters per century during the first millennium. Consistent with recent observations and simulations, the scientists also found that even if global warming would be limited to two degrees, this already raises the risk of destabilizing the West Antarctic ice sheet. “And the risk increases with every additional tenth of a degree of warming, with unabated carbon emissions threatening the Antarctic Ice Sheet in its entirety,” Ken Caldeira concludes.

 “An ice cube in a warming room

The comprehensive simulations take into account the impacts of atmospheric and ocean warming on the Antarctic ice as well as feedback mechanisms that might speed up ice discharge and melting processes. Moreover, they consider phenomena like enhanced snowfall due to global warming that might offset some part of the ice loss. Even though major modeling challenges remain, like imperfect datasets of Antarctic bedrock topography, the simulations are particularly well suited for the long-term projections of the continental-scale evolution of the ice sheet. “It is much easier to predict that an ice cube in a warming room is going to melt eventually than it is to say precisely how quickly it will vanish,” Winkelmann says.

Currently, Antarctica contributes less than 10 percent to global sea-level rise and hence is a minor contributor compared to the thermal expansion of the warming oceans and to the influx from melting mountain glaciers. However, Greenland and especially Antarctica with their huge ice volumes are expected to be the major contributors to long-term future sea-level rise. “Our results show that the currently attainable carbon resources are sufficient to eliminate the Antarctic ice sheet and that major coastal cities are threatened at much lower amounts of cumulative emissions,” Winkelmann says. “In a world beyond two degrees, long-term sea-level rise would likely be dominated by ice loss from Antarctica.”

Article: Winkelmann, R., Levermann, A., Ridgwell, K., Caldeira, K. (2015): Combustion of available fossil-fuel resources sufficient to eliminate the Antarctic Ice Sheet. Science Advances

Link to the article: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/8/e1500589

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Comment on “Burning all fossil energy…”

  1. Let’s cut to the chase. It’s not about rising waters but all about ‘leaving it in the ground’ and supplying ourselves via “renewables” you see. Bill Gates explained in a Financial Times interview why current renewables are dead-end technologies. They are unreliable. Battery storage is inadequate. Wind and solar output depends on the weather. The cost of decarbonisation using today’s technology is “beyond astronomical,” he said.

    After seven years of investigation, Google engineers came to a similar conclusion last year. They found no way to get the cost of renewables competitive with coal. “Unfortunately,” they reported, “most of today’s clean generation sources can’t provide power that is both distributed and dispatchable” (electricity that can be ramped up and down quickly). “Solar panels, for example, can be put on every rooftop, but can’t provide power if the sun isn’t shining.”

    But what do Gates and Google know? Who has ever heard of them? Not Potsdam.

    Potsdam knows water; having made so many belly flops, they should be experts by now. The Narcissist in Chief himself signalled the problem solved in his nomination victory speech in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 3, 2008 when he modestly stated that “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Problem solved.

    Potsdam’s latest model arrives somewhat late and highly suspect in view of an IPCC report stating 111 out of 114 of their own previous models were wrong. Oh dear.

    Potsdam’s true expertise lies in wildly overusing words such as “assuming” or “if.” Don’t you just love science?

    “Assuming a pulse of carbon release, the scientists’ simulations show that Antarctica would lose ice over at least the next ten thousand years….and will continue to do so for tens of thousands of years to come.”

    Wait. Who do I warn first? Which family member, which generation? 10,000 years! Are they serious? Not content to err with their 50 and 100 year “simulations”, they are going for broke with this one. 10,000 years! Note they prefer to write it out rather than use the numbers. They don’t mind the numbers when they might help their case, as in “10,000 billion tons”, but to say we are all drowned in 10,000 years would look ridiculous and we can’t have that. This is science, at least the modelling there of.

    The Narcissist in Chief must read Potsdam. He wants the U.S. to go down the same road traveled by the EU so let’s have a look where that leads. Germany passed its first renewable law in 1991 and has already spent $440 billion on what it likes to call ‘Energy Transition’. The German environment minister has estimated a cost of up to $1.1 trillion by the end of the 2030s. High and rising energy costs are driving German companies to locate new capacity overseas. The US economy is nearly five times as large as Germany’s and generates nearly seven times the amount of electricity. Figure the Narcissist in Chief’s dream in the $2 trillion range. A mere bagatelle for the man who has run up more debt than all the previous Presidents in history.

    BASF has opened plants in Malaysia as well as Louisiana. Not the kind of export Merkel has in mind. They plan on shifting more production to America. “With such a huge difference in energy prices, the decision is clear that the money is now going there,” a BASF executive told a meeting of EU industry ministers last year.

    The north of Africa is now known as the south of France. Energy costs figure prominently.

    Advocates of renewable energy anticipate that electricity from solar panels will cost the same as electricity from the grid in the not-too-distant future. They call this ‘grid parity’ but none suggest that solar can do so now without subsidies. Of course as Germany, Britain and other EU countries are finding out, overt subsidies are only one part of the renewables cost.

    The most damaging effect of renewable mandates is on the power stations required to ensure the stability of the electric grid and balance supply and demand. Even a modest proportion of wind and solar-generated electricity prevents gas and coal-powered stations from recovering their fixed costs. In Germany, this fact has led to the proposed shuttering of one of Germany’s newest and most efficient gas-fired plants, Irsching in Bavaria. Unless conventional capacity is also subsidized, at some point the lights will start going out. European politicians have no answer to a problem they created. The EPA doesn’t either. Someone ought to tell the Narcissist in Chief. If he has finished with the oceans that is.

    The displacement of coal by natural gas is an unintended consequence of the fracking boom. Natural gas is, after all, a cheaper and more effective way to cut carbon-dioxide emissions. A 2014 Brookings Institution study estimated that replacing coal with modern combined-cycle gas turbines cuts 2.6 times more carbon-dioxide emissions than using wind does, and cuts four times as many emissions as solar. So much for the generation of electricity with low-energy density, weather-dependent technologies that are inefficient and expensive. They require far more plant and equipment and land to harvest an equivalent amount of power than fossil fuels. And that’s not counting the investment in fossil-fuel capacity to provide on-demand power when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun doesn’t shine.

    Not even Potsdam and its latest, futuristic model can present a rational justification for policies favoring renewables. The Narcissist in Chief’s renewable policy target is a triumph for being poor and staying poor. It does not produce jobs, growth or prosperity. Who could that help? What could he possibly want next, a bomb for Iran?

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