Researchers develop new approach to understand the impacts of climate change on Antarctica

Image credit: Dr Andrew Peacock at Footloose Photography

A global research group has developed a new approach to improve future predictions of climate in Antarctica and have warned that current projections may be questionable.

The international group of researchers, including Keele University’s Professor Chris Fogwill, have said that their approach of analysing long-term observational and geological data and using this to test climate models is crucial to improving predictions of the future climate across Antarctica as the world warms up. This may be crucial to global sea level rise projections, one of the key global impacts of climate change.

Their findings have been published in the journal Geosciences, with the researchers arguing that current projections may be underestimates as the records they are based on do not include the full range of climate which is likely to be experienced.

The study is a part of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) Antarctic Climate Change in the 21st Century (AntClim21) Programme.

Current projections, which Professor Fogwill has researched himself, predict that if the three ice sheets that cover the continent were to melt, Antarctica would raise global sea levels by at least 56m, but where, when, and how quickly they might melt is still a major focus of research.

Professor Fogwill, Head of the School of Geography, Geology and the Environment at Keele University, said: “Given that present detailed records only cover the last few decades, they do not record the full range of climate likely be experienced over the next few decades in a world where CO2 is rising at unparalleled rates to levels not seen for millions of years. “

“As such, any model projection based on recent records will likely be under-representative, and may mean our current projections of future climate and sea level rise may be open to question. To address this, we identified key periods during the Earth’s past where we can examine how the climate system responded to climate conditions, which we are likely to experience soon under high levels of CO2 and temperature. 

“Such periods provide valuable windows into the past that can be used to test climate and ice sheet models and reduce uncertainty in future climate and sea level projections. By testing models against detailed data, we can reduce uncertainty which will help to mitigate the impacts of climate change. This is critical as although Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are extremely remote they have huge potential impacts for global climate and sea level rise that will impact millions world-wide.”