Exhausting all attainable fossil fuels would annihilate the Antarctic ice sheet and raise global sea levels by as much as 58 meters, more than the height of Niagara Falls, new research calculates.
Enough fossil fuels remain to release around 10,000 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere. The future of Antarctic ice depends on how much of that stockpile society burns through, researchers report September 11 in Science Advances. Simulating how Antarctic ice will respond to rising temperatures and a changing environment, the team estimates that 600 billion to 800 billion tons of further carbon emissions would destabilize the West Antarctic ice sheet. Humans emitted an estimated 545 billion tons of carbon from 1870 through 2014, with approximately 10 billion tons released in 2013. Burning all remaining fossil fuels would result in a nearly ice-free Antarctic.
Even though the simulated emissions were released in fewer than 500 years, the effects of elevated carbon dioxide lingered for more than 10,000 years, the researchers say.