Fiddling While Antarctica Melts? Debates about Antarctica's Role in Sea Level Rise and Implications for Policy Responses
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree LevelPostgraduate Certificate
Degree NamePostgraduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies
Sea level is rising'�but, in spite of attention being drawn to this impact ofclimate change since the late 1970s, the sheer complexity of attempting to quantify andmodel potential rises mean that it remains unclear by how much sea levels will rise, atwhat rate, and where it will impact most. This uncertainty has meant that many policymakers have been unwilling to expend the political capital and resources to take action tocounter potentially disastrous -but uncertain -affects. Uncertainty fuels inaction. The roleof the Antarctic contribution to sea level rise is critically important because, out of all thecontributions to sea-level rise, Antarctic melting has the capacity to greatly affect sealevels. It is already happening in a number of areas, and some models project that meltingin Antarctica could accelerate over this century. Should this come to pass, many poorercountries may not have the funds or information to respond in time, as making decisionsand finding resources can take decades. To some extent, further research, better data andsharing of knowledge about the contribution of Antarctic melting to sea level rise willhelp address uncertainties. But policy makers also need to appreciate that, owing to thenature of the system studied and the available sources of data, complete certainty orconsensus within the scientific community may not be possible, and hard decisions willneed to be made. This review considers the science of and the ongoing debates aboutAntarctica's contribution to sea-level rise -especially the idea of an acceleration of flowoff the glaciers in the Amundsen Sea in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS)'�and howthis information is conveyed to policy makers. It finds that even though much progresshas been made by scientists, especially in the past five years, there would be great meritin increasing investments in Antarctic ice sheet research to feed into the next IPCCAssessment Report 6 in five years time. This research should aim to reduce the variancewithin the scientific community on the issue of WAIS melting, but also help policymakers determine a level of uncertainty at which they would be willing to act, given therisks involved of a possible dynamic response in the WAIS rapidly increasing sea-levelrise beyond our capacity to respond. The alternative for the world's scientists, policymakers and planners is neatly encapsulated in one word'�Nero.
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