Past Antarctic ice melt reveals potential for 'extreme sea-level rise'

Sea levels rose as much as three metres per century during the last interglacial period as Antarctic ice sheets melted, a pace that could be exceeded in the future, given the turbo-charged potential of human-led climate change.

A study led by Australian National University researchers, published in Nature Communications, found sea-level increases during the last major melt of about 130,000 years ago were faster than models have factored in, even though the "climate forcing" from greenhouse gases is much stronger today.

The Larsen ice shelf in Antarctica began to break up in the 1990s. Others are expected to follow, particularly those with large exposure to the warming Southern Ocean.
The Larsen ice shelf in Antarctica began to break up in the 1990s. Others are expected to follow, particularly those with large exposure to the warming Southern Ocean.CREDIT:FDC

Using evidence ranging from Red Sea sediments to fossil corals, the scientists reconstructed the ancient climate. They showed how ocean circulation slowed, leading the Southern Hemisphere to warm up and triggering the Antarctic and then Greenland ice sheets to melt.

At its fastest – about 125,000 years ago when temperatures were about a degree warmer than now – sea levels rose as much as 3.4 metres per 100 years for several centuries.

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