The melting of a small area of ice on the shore of East Antarctica could lead to sea level rise for thousands of years, reports a new study. The study appears in Nature Climate Change by scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).
"East Antarctica's Wilkes Basin is like a bottle on a slant," said lead-author Matthias Mengel in a statement. "Once uncorked, it empties out."
A rim of ice currently holds back the largest region of marine ice on rocky ground in East Antarctica. Warming oceans could lead to loss of ice on the coast, while the air over Antarctica stays cold, the researchers say. If this rim is lost it could trigger sea-level rise of 300-400 centimeters (about 10-13 feet) the researchers report.
Sea level rise from Antarctica is projected to increase by 16 centimeters this century.
"If half of that ice loss occurred in the ice-cork region, then the discharge would begin. We have probably overestimated the stability of East Antarctica so far," said co-author Anders Levermann.