Low sea level rise projections from mountain glaciers and icecaps under global warming


The mean sea level has been projected to rise in the 21st century as a result of global warming1. Such projections of sea level change depend on estimated future greenhouse emissions and on differing models, but model-average results from a mid-range scenario (A1B) suggests a 0.387-m rise by 2100 (refs 1, 2). The largest contributions to sea level rise are estimated to come from thermal expansion (0.288 m) and the melting of mountain glaciers and icecaps (0.106 m), with smaller inputs from Greenland (0.024 m) and Antarctica (- 0.074 m)1. Here we apply a melt model3 and a geometric volume model4 to our lower estimate of ice volume5,6,7 and assess the contribution of glaciers to sea level rise, excluding those in Greenland and Antarctica. We provide the first separate assessment of melt contributions from mountain glaciers and icecaps, as well as an improved treatment of volume shrinkage. We find that icecaps melt more slowly than mountain glaciers, whose area declines rapidly in the 21st century, making glaciers a limiting source for ice melt. Using two climate models, we project sea level rise due to melting of mountain glaciers and icecaps to be 0.046 and 0.051 m by 2100, about half that of previous projections1,8.

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Figure 1
Figure 2: Altitudinal gradients of mass balance in accumulation and ablation areas plotted against annual precipitation for all grid cells.
Figure 3: Time evolution of mountain glacier and icecap metrics.
Figure 4: Temperature forcing and SLR contribution for mountain glaciers and icecaps over the 21st century.


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Much of this work was supported by the HGF Strategiefonds Projekt (S.C.B.R.). We acknowledge the international modelling groups for providing their data for analysis, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) for collecting and archiving the model data, the JSC/CLIVAR Working Group on Coupled Modelling (WGCM) and their Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) and Climate Simulation Panel for organizing the model data analysis activity, and the IPCC WG1 TSU for technical support. The IPCC Data Archive at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science, US Department of Energy.

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Correspondence to Sarah C. B. Raper.

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Sensitivity analysis: parameter settings and experiment results exploring uncertainty. (DOC 31 kb)

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Raper, S., Braithwaite, R. Low sea level rise projections from mountain glaciers and icecaps under global warming. Nature 439, 311–313 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04448

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