The huge West Antarctic ice sheet would collapse completely if the comparatively small Amundsen Basin is destabilized, scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research find. A full discharge of ice into the ocean is calculated to yield about 3 meters of sea-level rise. Recent studies indicated that this area of the ice continent is already losing stability, making it the first element in the climate system about to tip. The new publication for the first time shows the inevitable consequence of such an event. According to the computer simulations, a few decades of ocean warming can start an ice loss that continues for centuries or even millennia.
"What we call the eternal ice of Antarctica unfortunately turns out not to be eternal at all," says Johannes Feldmann, lead author of the study to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). "Once the ice masses get perturbed, which is what is happening today, they respond in a non-linear way: there is a relatively sudden breakdown of stability after a long period during which little change can be found."