An Overlooked Term in Assessment of the Potential Sea-Level Rise from a Collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet


As to sea level rise (SLR) contribution, melting and setting afloat make no difference for land based ice. Melting of West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) into water is impossible in the upcoming several centuries, whereas breaking and partially afloat is likely as long as sea waters find a pathway to the bottom of those ice sectors with basal elevation below sea level. In this sense WAIS may be disintegrated in a future warming climate. We reassess the potential contribution to eustatic sea level from a collapse of WAIS and find that previous assessments have overlooked a contributor: slope instability after the cementing ice is removed. Over loading ice has a buttressing effect on slope movements the same way ice shelves hinder the flow of non-floating coastal ice. A sophisticated landslide model estimates a 9-mm eustatic SLR contribution from subsequent landslides.

Share and Cite:

D. Ren, M. Lynch and L. Leslie, "An Overlooked Term in Assessment of the Potential Sea-Level Rise from a Collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet," International Journal of Geosciences, Vol. 4 No. 6, 2013, pp. 978-984. doi: 10.4236/ijg.2013.46090.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] A. Berger and M. Loutre, “An Exceptionally Long Interglacial Ahead?” Science, Vol. 297, No. 5585, 2002, pp. 1287-1288. doi:10.1126/science.1076120
[2] J. H. Mercer, “Antarctic Ice Sheet and CO2 Greenhouse Effect: A Threat of Disaster,” Nature, Vol. 271, 1978, pp. 321-325. doi:10.1038/271321a0
[3] M. Oppenheimer, “Global Warming and the Stability of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet,” Nature, Vol. 393, 1998, pp. 325-332. doi:10.1038/30661
[4] D. Vaughan, “Recent Trends in Melting Conditions on the Antarctic Peninsula and Their Implications for Ice-Sheet Mass Balance and Sea Level,” Arctic Antarctic and Alpine Research, Vol. 38, No. 1, 2006, pp. 147-152. doi:10.1657/1523-0430(2006)038[0147:RTIMCO]2.0.CO;2
[5] M. R. Van den Broeke, W. J. van de Berg and E. van Meijgaard, “Snowfall in Coastal West Antarctica Much Greater than Previously Assumed,” Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 33, No. 2, 2006, Article ID: L02505. doi:10.1029/2005GL025239
[6] E. Rignot, J. Bamber, M. van den Broeke, C. Davis, Y. Li, W. van de Berg and E. van Meijgaard, “Loss of the Antarctic Ice Sheet from Dynamic Thinning,” Nature Geoscience, Vol. 1, 2008, pp. 106-110. doi:10.1038/ngeo102
[7] J. L. Bamber, R. Riva, B. Vermeersen and A. LeBrocq, “Reassessment of the Potential Sea-Level Rise from a Collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet,” Science, Vol. 324, No. 5929, 2009, pp. 901-903. doi:10.1126/science.1169335
[8] I. Joughin and R. Alley, “Stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in a Warming World,” Nature Geosciences, Vol. 4, No. 8, 2011, pp. 493-571. doi:10.1038/ngeo1194
[9] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis,” Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007.
[10] D. MacAyeal, “Large-Scale Ice Flow over a Viscous Basal Sediment: Theory and Application to Ice Stream B, Antarctica,” Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 94, No. B4, 1989, pp. 4071-4087. doi:10.1029/JB094iB04p04071
[11] D. Ren, L. M. Leslie and D. J. Karoly, “Landslide Risk Analysis Using a New Constitutive Relationship for Granular Flow,” Earth Interactions, Vol. 12, 2008, pp. 116. doi:10.1175/2007EI237.1
[12] D. Ren, J. Wang, R. Fu, D. Karoly, Y. Hong, L. M. Leslie, C. Fu and G. Huang, “Mudslide Caused Ecosystem Degradation Following Wenchuan Earthquake 2008,” Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 36, No. 5, 2009. doi:10.1029/2008GL036702
[13] D. Ren, R. Fu, L. M. Leslie, D. J. Karoly, J. Chen and C. Wilson, “A Multirheology Ice Model: Formulation and Application to the Greenland Ice Sheet,” Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, Vol. 116, No. D5, 2011, Article ID: D05112, doi:10.1029/2010JD014855
[14] C. Bentley, In: R. J. Tinguey, Ed., Geography of Antarctica, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1991, pp. 335-364.
[15] H. Englehardt, et al., “Physical Conditions at the Base of a Fast Moving Antarctica Ice Stream,” Science, Vol. 248, No. 4951, 1990, pp. 57-59. doi:10.1126/science.248.4951.57
[16] K. Jezek, “Observing the Antarctic Ice Sheet Using the RADARSAT-1 Synthetic Aperture Radar,” Polar Geography, Vol. 27, No. 3, 2003, pp. 197-209. doi:10.1080/789610167
[17] I. Norton, “Paleomotion between Africa, South America, and Antarctica, and Implications for the Antarctic Peninsula,” In: C. Craddock, Ed., Antarctic Geoscience, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1982, pp. 99-106.

Copyright © 2021 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.