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Sea levels could rise twice as fast as previously predicted

Limited understanding of past ground shifts adds uncertainty to projected increase by 2100

By
7:00am, April 6, 2016
Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica

ON THE RISE  The collapse of keystone glaciers in West Antarctica, such as Thwaites Glacier, could raise sea levels faster and sooner than thought.

Antarctica’s meltdown could spur sea level rise well beyond current predictions. A new simulation of the continent’s thawing ice suggests that Antarctic melting alone will raise global sea levels by about 64 to 114 centimeters by 2100, scientists report in the March 31 Nature.

Adding Antarctic melt to other sources of sea level rise, such as the expansion of warming seawater and melting Greenland ice, the scientists predict that sea levels will rise 1.5 to 2.1 meters by the end of the century. That’s as much as double previous predictions that didn’t incorporate mechanisms that can expedite the Antarctic ice sheet’s collapse, though uncertainties remain, says study coauthor David Pollard, a paleoclimatologist at Penn State.

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