The role of internal climate variability in projecting Antarctica’s contribution to future sea-level rise

C. Y. Tsai, C. E. Forest, and D. Pollard

Climate Dynamics (18 July 2020)

DOI: 10.1007/s00382-020-05354-8

Retreat of the Antarctic ice sheet (AIS) is likely to be a major contributor to future sea-level rise (SLR). Current projections of SLR due to ice-sheet mass loss remain highly uncertain. Better understanding of how ice sheets respond to future climate forcing and variability is essential for assessing long-term risk of SLR. However, predictability of future climate is limited by uncertainties from emission scenarios, model structural differences, and internal climate variability (ICV) that is inherently generated within the fully coupled climate system. Among those uncertainties, the impact of ICV on the AIS changes has not been explicitly assessed. Here we quantify the effects of ICV on the AIS evolutions by employing climate fields from two large-ensemble experiments using the Community Earth System Model to force a three-dimensional ice-sheet model. We find that ICV of climate fields among ensemble members leads to significantly different AIS responses, and that most of the effect is due to atmospheric variability compared to oceanic. Our results show that ICV can cause about 0.08 m differences of AIS contribution to SLR by 2100 compared to the ensemble-mean AIS contribution of 0.38–0.45 m. Moreover, using ensemble-mean climate forcing fields as the forcing in an ice-sheet model significantly delays retreat of the West AIS for up to 20 years and significantly underestimates the AIS contribution to SLR by 0.07–0.11 m in 2100 and up to 0.34 m in the 2250’s. This study highlights the need to take internal climate variability into account in assessing uncertainty associated with the AIS contribution in sea-level rise projections.

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