The future fate of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets and implications for New England

Wednesday, October 5, 2016 - 3:30pm
Eastern Standard Time
Robert DeConto
UMass Amherst
Webinar Location: 
134 Morrill Science Center

New climate and ice-sheet modeling, calibrated to past changes in sea-level, is painting a stark picture of the future fate of the polar ice sheets if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated. This is especially true for Antarctica, where a substantial fraction of the ice sheet rests on bedrock more than 500-meters below sea level. Here, we will explore the sensitivity of the great polar ice sheets to a warming atmosphere and ocean, and the potential for thresholds to be exceeded that could lead to drastic sea-level rise over coming decades and centuries. Importantly for New England, future sea-level rise caused by retreating ice-sheets will not be the same everywhere around the world, and we will learn why the Northeastern US has much more to fear from the loss of ice on Antarctica than it does from Greenland. Finally, we’ll discuss the potential for policy and aggressive mitigation strategies like those discussed at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) to dramatically reduce the risk of coastal flooding in the Northeastern US and around the world.

Rob DeConto's background spans geology, oceanography, atmospheric science and glaciology. He studied at the University of Colorado in the late 1980s and early 1990s before undertaking one of the first PhD studies on Earth System modelling to help understand the dynamics of warm climates in the geologic past and the future. This was followed by post doctoral positions at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), before joining the faculty of the University of Massachusetts. In the last fifteen years, Rob’s work has focused on the climate of the polar regions, the physics of ice sheets, and the sensitivity of the Antarctic and Greenland Ice Sheets (and sea level) to conditions warmer than today. In 2016, Rob was awarded the Tinker-Muse Prize for Antarctic Science and Policy and he is currently serving on the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC).