Abstract

Even if anthropogenic warming were constrained to less than 2 °C above pre-industrial, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will continue to lose mass this century, with rates similar to those observed over the past decade. However, nonlinear responses cannot be excluded, which may lead to larger rates of mass loss. Furthermore, large uncertainties in future projections still remain, pertaining to knowledge gaps in atmospheric (Greenland) and oceanic (Antarctica) forcing. On millennial timescales, both ice sheets have tipping points at or slightly above the 1.5–2.0 °C threshold; for Greenland, this may lead to irreversible mass loss due to the surface mass balance–elevation feedback, whereas for Antarctica, this could result in a collapse of major drainage basins due to ice-shelf weakening.

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Acknowledgements

This paper is the result of the 2017 ISMASS (Ice-Sheet Mass Balance and Sea Level) workshop held in Brussels (Belgium), co-sponsored by WCRP/CliC (http://www.climate-cryosphere.org/activities/groups/ismass), IASC and SCAR. H.G., P.K.M. and M.v.d.B. acknowledge support from the NESSC.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Laboratoire de Glaciologie, Université libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium

    • Frank Pattyn
    • , Lionel Favier
    •  & Heiko Goelzer
  2. Institut des Géosciences de l’Environnement, Université Grenoble-Alpes/CNRS, Grenoble, France

    • Catherine Ritz
    • , Gaël Durand
    •  & Lionel Favier
  3. School of Geography and Lincoln Centre for Water and Planetary Health, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK

    • Edward Hanna
  4. Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, USA

    • Xylar Asay-Davis
  5. Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany

    • Xylar Asay-Davis
  6. Department of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, USA

    • Rob DeConto
  7. Department of Geography, Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium

    • Xavier Fettweis
  8. Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    • Heiko Goelzer
    • , Peter Kuipers Munneke
    •  & Michiel van den Broeke
  9. Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand

    • Nicholas R. Golledge
  10. GNS Science, Avalon, Lower Hutt, New Zealand

    • Nicholas R. Golledge
  11. Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA

    • Jan T. M. Lenaerts
  12. NASA/GSFC, Greenbelt, MD, USA

    • Sophie Nowicki
  13. School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK

    • Antony J. Payne
  14. PalMA, Facultad de Ciencias Físicas, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain

    • Alexander Robinson
  15. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA

    • Hélène Seroussi
  16. Department of Geology, Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ, USA

    • Luke D. Trusel

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Contributions

F.P. and C.R. coordinated the study. F.P., C.R. and E.H. led the writing, and all authors contributed to the writing and discussion of ideas. J.T.M.L., P.K.M. and L.D.T. contributed the data that are presented in Fig. 1. L.F. designed Fig. 3. N.R.G. provided the data that are presented in Fig. 4.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Frank Pattyn.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0305-8