LONDON – Ice in Antarctica and Greenland is disappearing faster and may drive sea levels higher than predicted this century, according to leaked United Nations documents.
Greenland’s ice added six times more to sea levels in the decade through 2011 than in the previous 10 years, according to a draft of the U.N.’s most comprehensive study on climate change. Antarctica had a fivefold increase, and the U.N. is raising its forecast for how much the two ice sheets will add to Earth’s oceans by 2100.
The changes in the planet’s coldest areas are a very good indicator of a warming planet, according to Walt Meier, a research scientist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
It’s an early warning system, Meier said by phone from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. When you think about a couple of degrees of warming, in the U.K. or U.S., it’s not something that would be too noticeable, whereas in an area of snow and ice, it can have a huge effect. With sea ice, minus 1 to plus 1 is the difference between skating on the ice and swimming in the ocean.
A draft of the study was obtained by Bloomberg from a person with official access to the documents who declined to be further identified because it hasn’t been published. The data on melting ice is included in chapters covering rising sea levels and the planet’s cryosphere regions, the frigid realms of glaciers, permafrost, snow-covered ground and ice sheets.
In its last report the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore, was faulted by skeptics of man’s influence in warming the planet for exaggerating how fast Himalayan glaciers were melting and using reports by environmental advocacy groups.
A number of IPCC scientists also were accused of doctoring numbers and hiding data after a trove of emails was leaked in the so-called climategate scandal. Three subsequent probes largely exonerated the researchers while saying they could be more transparent.
A summary of the latest 2,200-page report designed to guide lawmakers worldwide as they work to devise climate policies is due for publication on Sept. 27 in Stockholm after a four-day meeting where the wording will be finalized. Jonathan Lynn, a spokesman for the panel, declined to comment.
Greenland and Antarctica contain enough ice to raise global sea levels by almost 217 feet, a process that would take thousands of years.
Greenland may add a total of 4 centimeters to 21 centimeters to ocean levels by the period 2081 through 2100, across a range of carbon-emissions scenarios assessed in the study, compared with the period 1986 through 2005. That’s up from a 2007 forecast of 1 centimeter to 12 centimeters, when the U.N. carried out its last major assessment of climate science.
Results due to Antarctic ice range from lowering sea levels by 6 centimeters to a 14-centimeter increase. The 2007 report forecast a reduction of 2 centimeters to 14 centimeters, due to higher snowfall than surface melt.