The melting of the ice cap at the end of the last ice age may have caused sea level to rise 10 times the current rate, according to a study released Thursday by a team led by scientists at the University of Britain of Durham.
Based on geological data, researchers estimate that the world’s oceans grew 3.6 meters per century over a 500-year period around 14,600 years ago.
The findings raise a red flag over the current potential for rapid sea level rise that could overwhelm coastal cities and densely populated deltas around the world.
The team found that the sea level rise event of around 18 meters could have originated mainly from melting ice caps in the northern hemisphere and not from Antarctica as previously thought.
Scientists say their work could offer “vital clues” to future melting of the ice sheet and sea level rise due to climate change.
“We found that most of the rapid sea level rise was due to melting ice caps in North America and Scandinavia, with a surprisingly small contribution from Antarctica,” said the co- Study author Pippa Whitehouse, Department of Geography at Durham University.
“The next big question is what triggered the ice melt and what impact the massive influx of meltwater has had on ocean currents in the North Atlantic.
“This is of great concern to us today – any disruption to the Gulf Stream, for example due to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, will have significant consequences for the UK climate.”
Current models used by many climatologists estimate that global sea level could rise 1 to 2 meters by the end of this century.
Researchers in Durham used detailed geological sea level data and advanced modeling techniques to reveal the sources of the dramatic sea level rise event that spanned five centuries.
Similar to the melting of an ice cap twice the size of Greenland, this resulted in the inundation of large areas of lowland and disruption of ocean circulation, with ripple effects on the global climate, have- they stated.
“Our study includes new information from lakes around the Scottish coast that were isolated from the ocean due to land uplift following the retreat of the UK ice cap, allowing us to confidently identify sources melt water, ”added co-author Yucheng Lin, also. from the Durham Department of Geography.
Identifying the source of the meltwater will help improve the accuracy of climate models that are used to replicate the past and predict changes in the future, the team added.
They noted that the results were particularly timely, with the Greenland ice sheet melting rapidly and contributing to sea level rise and changes in global ocean circulation.
In 2019, Greenland released more than half a trillion tonnes of ice and meltwater, or 40% of the total sea level rise that year.
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