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Which Ice Sheet will Play a Bigger Role to Sea Level Rise?

January 24, 2013; 4:31 PM ET

New research just published in the journal Nature indicates that the Antarctic Ice Sheet may have played a larger role in past sea level rise compared to the Greenland Ice Sheet and may do so again in the future.

Scientists from 14 countries contributed to this research as part of the North Greenland Eemian Ice Drilling (NEEM) project. The Eemian Interglacial period occurred 130,000 to 115,000 years ago.

The team found that the Eemian period was warmer than previously thought, peaking at the NEEM site at roughly 8 degrees Celsius above the mean of the past millennium. At the time, the Earth was closer to the sun in the summer, allowing more solar energy to reach the surface. (via Scientific American)

The research team found that the thickness of the Northwest Greenland Ice Sheet in the Eemian Period declined about 25 percent, or roughly 400 meters, over a 6,000-year period. This reduction in elevation was considered moderate.

Excerpt from the Scientific American story......

The "moderate" reaction of Greenland meant that its melting ice sheet contributed less than half -- or 2 meters or less -- to rising sea levels in the Eemian period, according to Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, a professor at the University of Copenhagen, and leader of the NEEM project. At the time, seas were likely 4 to 8 meters higher than now, according to Dahl-Jensen.

Since the world's glaciers combined with thermal expansion would have only contributed a fraction of the 4 to 8 meter rise it is likely that the larger portion of the rise would have come from the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Some scientists are not yet convinced by these results and question some of the findings within the study.

One thing that is fairly clear is that for the immediate future the Greenland Ice Sheet will still be the biggest contributor to sea level rise as Greenland has experienced more dramatic melting than Antarctica since the 1990's as temperatures have warmed more quickly in the far north.

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