What would happen in Antarctica if all fossil fuels are burned?

Published: Sep 13, 2015 by The PISM Authors

A new open-access paper by Ricarda Winkelmann and others uses PISM to address an admittedly extreme question: If all currently-attainable fossil fuel resources are converted to atmospheric greenhouse gases, what happens to the Antarctic Ice Sheet?

This paper’s model-based answer is that serious destruction of the ice sheet occurs in the first millenium, at about 3 m sea level rise per century. Such a large mass loss rate tails off in the two following millenia. The large losses come from a combination of marine-ice-sheet instability and surface elevation versus mass balance feedback, both of which are modeled effects in PISM. However, in the first century of the simulations there are the same relatively-modest AIS mass changes as seen in other recent modeling work, because dynamic losses driven by increasing ocean temperatures are partly offset by increasing snowfall.

Here is a quick methods summary, with more detail found in the paper and its supplementary material: Emission scenarios, CO2 concentrations, and global mean temperature pathways are combined in an Earth system model and then downscaled to surface and ocean temperature anomalies for Antarctica. These regional warming scenarios are then used to force PISM, in particular using its positive-degree-day scheme to model surface melt and a three-equation model for subshelf melting.

US National Public Radio featured the paper, including comments by co-author Ken Caldeira, on the 11 September edition of All Things Considered, as did the New York Times.


Latest news

PISM 2.0 is out

PISM developers have been hard at work to bring you a brand new version of PISM, packed with new features. After years of development, PISM finally includes a Blatter solver, warranting a new major version: PISM 2.0.

Version 1.2

We are pleased to announce the release of the Parallel Ice Sheet Model (PISM) v1.2.

MPI-M Hamburg, Germany: open postdoc for coupled atmosphere-ocean-ice sheet model

The Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI-M) contributes to the BMBF project “From the Last Interglacial to the Anthropocene: Modeling a Complete Glacial Cycle” (PalMod, www.palmod.de), which aims at simulating the climate from the peak of the last interglacial up to the present using comprehensive Earth System Models. Phase II of this project has an open position Postdoctoral Scientist (W073). The successful candidate will be part of a local team performing and analysing long-term transient simulations covering the last glacial and the transition into the Holocene with an interactively coupled atmosphere-ocean-ice sheet model. Additionally, the candidate will contribute to the continued development of this model. The model system consists of the MPI-Earth system model, the ice sheet model PISM, and the solid-earth model VILMA.