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A recent study (Millan and others, 2022a, Nature Geoscience 15(2), 124–129) claims that ice volume contained in all glaciers outside the ice sheets and its potential contribution to sea level is 20% less than previously estimated. However, the apparent decrease is largely due to differences in choice of domain, as the study excludes 80% of the glacier area in the Antarctic periphery that was included in previous global glacier volume estimates. The issue highlights the difficulty in separating glaciers from the ice-sheet proper, especially in Antarctica, and the need for both the glacier and ice-sheet communities to develop standards and protocols to avoid double-counting in global ice volume and mass-change assessments and projections. Process-based inversion models have replaced earlier scaling methods, but large uncertainties in global glacier volume estimation remain due to the ill-posed nature of the inversion problem and poorly constrained parameters emphasizing the need for more direct ice thickness observations.
Antarctica's ice shelves modulate the grounded ice flow, and weakening of ice shelves due to climate forcing will decrease their ‘buttressing’ effect, causing a response in the grounded ice. While the processes governing ice-shelf weakening are complex, uncertainties in the response of the grounded ice sheet are also difficult to assess. The Antarctic BUttressing Model Intercomparison Project (ABUMIP) compares ice-sheet model responses to decrease in buttressing by investigating the ‘end-member’ scenario of total and sustained loss of ice shelves. Although unrealistic, this scenario enables gauging the sensitivity of an ensemble of 15 ice-sheet models to a total loss of buttressing, hence exhibiting the full potential of marine ice-sheet instability. All models predict that this scenario leads to multi-metre (1–12 m) sea-level rise over 500 years from present day. West Antarctic ice sheet collapse alone leads to a 1.91–5.08 m sea-level rise due to the marine ice-sheet instability. Mass loss rates are a strong function of the sliding/friction law, with plastic laws cause a further destabilization of the Aurora and Wilkes Subglacial Basins, East Antarctica. Improvements to marine ice-sheet models have greatly reduced variability between modelled ice-sheet responses to extreme ice-shelf loss, e.g. compared to the SeaRISE assessments.
Ten ice-sheet models are used to study sensitivity of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to prescribed changes of surface mass balance, sub-ice-shelf melting and basal sliding. Results exhibit a large range in projected contributions to sea-level change. In most cases, the ice volume above flotation lost is linearly dependent on the strength of the forcing. Combinations of forcings can be closely approximated by linearly summing the contributions from single forcing experiments, suggesting that nonlinear feedbacks are modest. Our models indicate that Greenland is more sensitive than Antarctica to likely atmospheric changes in temperature and precipitation, while Antarctica is more sensitive to increased ice-shelf basal melting. An experiment approximating the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s RCP8.5 scenario produces additional first-century contributions to sea level of 22.3 and 8.1 cm from Greenland and Antarctica, respectively, with a range among models of 62 and 14 cm, respectively. By 200 years, projections increase to 53.2 and 26.7 cm, respectively, with ranges of 79 and 43 cm. Linear interpolation of the sensitivity results closely approximates these projections, revealing the relative contributions of the individual forcings on the combined volume change and suggesting that total ice-sheet response to complicated forcings over 200 years can be linearized.
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