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Sea Level

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Discharge from ice sheet greater and faster than expected


Scientific studies over the last year show that ice is being discharged from Greenland and the West Antarctic Peninsula at a much greater rate than glaciologists previously thought possible, Professor Chis Rapley told the Climate Clinic in Brighton today (Tuesday 19 September). Professor Rapley also said the discharge from Greenland, and probably also Antarctica, is accelerating. The findings have profound consequences for the world’s sea levels.


The Director of the British Antarctic Survey - an acknowledged world expert - said the scientific understanding of what was happening was moving quickly, with significant new evidence on the speed of ice loss coming to light in the last few months.


Satellite gravity data shows a loss of about 210 cubic kilometres per year from Greenland. In the West Antarctic a similar amount of ice is being lost annually, while on the Antarctic Peninsula 87 per cent of glaciers are retreating. The worrying behaviour of the ice sheets is almost certainly a consequence of global warming, Professor Rapley said.


'It's like opening a window and seeing what's going on, and the message is it's worse than we thought' Professor Rapley said.


He added that although the complexity of the situation made it difficult to predict the impact, historical evidence pointed to a potential rise of five metres in mean sea levels. The most intense sea level rise in the last 10,000 years, known as a meltwater pulse saw levels rise by 5m in a single century. Professor Rapley says a similar catastrophic rate is unlikely to occur in the near future.


But even if carbon dioxide levels are successfully stabilised, sea levels will continue to rise into the future as a result of greenhouse gases already emitted, leaving a legacy for future generations.


Politicians must respond to the urgency of the issue, he said, adding that current international political action on curbing greenhouse gas emissions is inadequate.


'Climate change is real, climate change is serious, and climate change is now' he said.


Professor Rapley was speaking at the Climate Clinic, a global warming conference within the Lib Dem conference in Brighton which has been organised by the UK's leading green organisations with the support of business and the Energy Saving Trust.


Climate Clinic Spokesperson Phillip Sellwood said:


Politicians from all parties must listen to what Professor Rapley has to say. We are facing a situation unlike anything we have ever faced before and they must respond accordingly. All parties must support urgent action to avert crisis and prevent the kind of devastating sea level rises that Professor Rapley tells us are possible.


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