In a recent study published in Nature, a international team of researchers from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and the United States studied the climate change effects on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) while encouraging world leaders to meet climate targets discussed in the Paris Agreements, which include limiting the warming effects of climate change by 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The research team predicted the EAIS will add less than a half-meter (1.5 feet) of rise in sea levels by the year 2500 if these targets are met, referring to EAIS as a “sleeping giant” if these targets are not met. This dire warning is due to EAIS containing most of the glacier ice on Earth.
"The EAIS is 10 times larger than West Antarctica and contains the equivalent of 52 metres of sea level," said Nerilie Abram, a Professor in the Australian National University Research School of Earth Sciences, and a co-author on the study. "If temperatures rise above two degrees Celsius beyond 2100, sustained by high greenhouse gas emissions, then East Antarctica alone could contribute around one to three metres to rising sea levels by 2300 and around two to five metres by 2500." In imperial units, 52 meters is equivalent to almost 171 feet, while one to three meters is equivalent to 3.2 to 9.8 feet.
Professor Abram stated our window or opportunity to prevent climate change from effecting the EAIS is quickly closing.
"Achieving and strengthening our commitments to the Paris Agreement would not only protect the world's largest ice sheet, but also slow the melting of other major ice sheets such as Greenland and West Antarctica, which are more vulnerable to global warming." Abrams said.
For the study, the team compared previous studies of EAIS responses to warm periods in the Earth’s past to predictions made by current studies to determine how climate change could affect the EAIS in the years 2100, 2300, and 2500.
Anthropogenic climate change has already increased average global temperatures by 1.1 degrees Celsius (34 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC0, which was published in 2021.
Professor Abrams said humanity can avoid both the worst-case scenarios of climate change, to include huge losses from the EAIS, if we continue to limit the effects of climate change to well below two degrees Celsius.
"We used to think East Antarctica was much less vulnerable to climate change, compared to the ice sheets in West Antarctica or Greenland, but we now know there are some areas of East Antarctica that are already showing signs of ice loss," Abrams said. "This means the fate of the world's largest ice sheet very much remains in our hands."
As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!