References -- New Science and Collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet: Are Current Climate Control Strategies Outdated?

Bruce Melton
Climate Change Now Initiative

1)     Total Emissions have doubled since 1984… Since 1984 we have doubled the total amount of CO2 emissions since record keeping began in 1751. In just 29 years we emitted as many greenhouse gas pollutants as we emitted in the previous 230 years.

Data from the World Resource Institute’s Climate Analysis Indicator Tool.

2)     Kyoto Protocol Era emissions reductions were born of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. The Clean Power Plan is 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 (1969 levels of 4007 Gt C) vs. Kyoto at 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012 (1984 levels of 4559 Gt C). CPP is 12 percent more stringent but 18 years behind. Kyoto commitments for Phase II were generally at 80 percent below 1990 by 2020. (The United States, South Sudan and Afghanistan were the only countries to not ratify Kyoto). The current UNFCCC commitment by the United States is 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050, 30 years behind.  2015 Paris Climate Conference emissions reduction commitments of 80 percent by 2050 are literally 30 years later than Kyoto Protocol commitments of 80 percent by 2020.
Historical Emissions 1850 to present, World Resource Institute: (download full data)
Clean Power Plan Fact Sheet:
Kyoto Protocol Reference Manual:
Phase II Kyoto Protocol:
United States 2050 UNFCCC commitment:

3)     U.S. is the only country to not ratify the Kyoto protocol… Canada has since withdrawn.

4)     The IPCC Consensus underestimates – Antarctic ice loss: Antarctic surface mass balance (SMB) in the 2007 IPCC Report was supposed to increase, not decrease, for all scenarios, through 2100. This means that snow accumulation was supposed to be more than melt, evaporation and iceberg discharge combined: “All studies for the 21st century project that Antarctic SMB changes will contribute negatively to sea level, owing to increasing accumulation exceeding any ablation increase (see Table 10.6).”
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fourth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis,, Surface Mass Balance, fifth paragraph.

The 2013 IPCC report tells us that Antarctic ice loss has almost caught up with Greenland. Summary for Policy Makers, E.3 Cryosphere, page 9, third bullet. “The average rate of ice loss from the Antarctic ice sheet has likely increased from 30 [–37 to 97] Gt yr–1 over the period 1992–2001 to 147 [72 to 221] Gt yr–1 over the period 2002 to 2011.” Greenland, second bullet: “The average rate of ice loss from the Greenland ice sheet has very likely substantially increased from 34 [–6 to 74] Gt yr–1 over the period 1992 to 2001 to 215 [157 to 274] Gt yr–1 over the period 2002 to 2011.” 

Negative Antarctic Ice mass balance since at least 1994
Stanley et al., Antarctic ice sheet melting in the Southeast Pacific , Geophysical Research Letters, May 1, 1996, last Sentence of abstract.

5)     Legacy Policy Allows Continued Warming…  Legacy policy is what we were supposed to adopt with the Kyoto Protocol back in the 1990s. It’s basically RCP2.6 today and is similar to Kyoto Phase 2 goals of 80 percent emissions reductions below 1990 levels by 2020, only today it is 80 percent below 2005 by 2050. This is 30 years behind and a third less stringent.  It is “Legacy Policy” even though it has not been implemented yet. The IPCC’s new Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) scenario of RCP2.6, is basically the same thing as 80 percent emissions reductions by 2050 and is described by the IPCC as a “strong mitigation scenario.” RCP2.6 has CO2 peaking at about 440 ppm between 2050 and 2060 and the median temperature at 1.6 C about 2050 and the upper limits at 2.4 to 2.6 C 2050 to 2100. The increase of 1.6 degrees C is double the 2014 warming since the 1850. The concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere does not fall below today’s level until after 2150, and does not return to preindustrial era temperature until long after the year 3000. Figure 3 shows GHG emissions declining to less than half of today by 2050 and 10 percent of today by 2100, atmospheric CO2 peaking at 440 ppm in about 2050 (Figure 5), and temperature Figure 6.
Meinshausen et al., The RCP greenhouse gas concentrations and their extensions from 1765 to 2300, Climatic Change, November 2011.

6)     Climate Change Counter Movement… From 2003 to 2010, $7 billion in climate change counter-movement funding ($900 million per year) has been identified from revenues reported in IRS tax returns for 91 of 118 organizations and institutions identified in the academic literature as being involved. The research from Drexel and Stanford concludes: “With delay and obfuscation as their goals, the U.S. CCCM has been quite successful in recent decades. However, the key actors in this cultural and political conflict are not just the “experts” who appear in the media spotlight. The roots of climate-change denial go deeper, because individuals’ efforts have been bankrolled and directed by organizations that receive sustained support from foundations and funders known for their overall commitments to conservative causes. Thus to fully understand the opposition to climate change legislation, we need to focus on the institutionalized efforts that have built and maintain this organized campaign. Just as in a theatrical show, there are stars in the spotlight. In the drama of climate change, these are often prominent contrarian scientists or conservative politicians, such as Senator James Inhofe. However, they are only the most visible and transparent parts of a larger production. Supporting this effort are directors, script writers, and, most importantly, a series of producers, in the form of conservative foundations. Clarifying the institutional dynamics of the CCCM can aid our understanding of how anthropogenic climate change has been turned into a controversy rather than a scientific fact in the U.S.”
Brulle, Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations, Climatic Change, December 21, 2013.

7)     Fairness Bias: Deceitful propaganda campaigns similar to acid rain, smoking, and ozone depleting chemicals…

Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt, Bloomsbury 2010.

8)     Climate Science Education has failed, the “Fairness Bias” and climate scientists don’t trust the media…  “Through content analysis of US prestige press— meaning the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal—this paper focuses on the norm of balanced reporting, and shows that the prestige press’s adherence to balance actually leads to biased coverage of both anthropogenic contributions to global warming and resultant action.”
Boykoff and Boykoff, Balance as Bias - Global Warming and the US Prestige Press, Global Environmental Change, 2004, abstract.    “Only 1 percent of climate scientists rate broadcast or television news as very reliable and 3 percent rate local newspapers as very reliable, while 26 percent rate Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth as very reliable.”
Lichter, Climate Scientists Agree on Warming, Disagree on Dangers, and Don’t Trust the Media’s Coverage of Climate Change, George Mason University, STATS, April 2008, paragraph 12.
Full Survey:

9)     The public and policy are 25 years behind… Public knowledge is 20 years behind climate scientists…Views of the public today are similar to climate scientists’ in 1991.
In 1991, 60% of climate scientists believed that earth was warming, compared to 97% today.
Climate Scientists Agree on Warming, Disagree on Dangers, and Don’t Trust the Media’s Coverage of Climate Change, George Mason University, STATS, 2008, first bullet, first paragraph.
A bit more than 60 percent of the American public “believes” in climate change today…
Gallup, March 30, 2012 In U.S., Global Warming Views Steady Despite Warm Winter: 52% say it has already begun, 29 percent say it will begin in the future.  
Pew Center, Modest Rise in Number Saying There Is “Solid Evidence” of Global Warming, November 9-14, 2011 (Published December 1, 2011) : 63% say there is solid evidence of global warming.  
Yale 2012: Weather extremes caused by climate change have changed public awareness: 69 % believe global warming is affecting extreme weather in the U.S. Leiserowitz et al., Extreme-Weather-Climate-Preparedness, Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, April 2012.   
Gallup, March 30, 2012 - Americans' Worries About Global Warming Up Slightly: 61% believe global warming will pose a serious threat to them in their lifetimes. 

10) 2 degrees C: Why so much?… The target of 2 degrees C was chosen by politicans and economists based, not by scientists.
Rijsberman and Swart, Targets and Indicators of Climate Change, The Stockholm Environmental Institute, 1990.One degree C is page viii, last paragraph, 2 degrees C is first paragraph, page ix.

11) West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Collapse Tipping Point Defined… This work out of the German National Science Institute describes marine ice sheet collapse mechanisms, and how there is a very distinct tipping point with the West Antarctic Ice Sheet where collapse becomes irreversible in about 2050. The very important take-away from this work is that to prevent ice sheet collapse the “perturbation” that creates the warming that is responsible for ice sheet collapse, which is mostly ocean warming, must end by at the latest 2050. This means that we must return ocean temperature to its preindustrial stable temperature by 2050. The challenge here is that it is much more difficult to cool the oceans than it is the atmosphere. Figure 3 shows the model runs that define the stable state in blue.
Feldmann and Levermann, Collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet after local destabilization of the Amundsen Basin, PNAS, November 17, 2015.

12) Abrupt sea level rise of 10 feet per century for centuries on end…
Up to 60 mm per year… Reef backstepping identifies abrupt sea level rise of up to 63 mm per year that persisted for 300 to 500 years. This summary of research looks at three recent deglaciation when both northern and southern ice sheet contributed and a sea level jump during our previous interglacial when the north American Ice Sheet (Laurentide) was absent at 121,000 years before present.
Blanchon,  Meltwater Pulses. In: Hopley, D. (Ed), Encyclopedia of Modern Coral Reefs: Structure, form and process. Springer-Verlag Earth Science Series, p. 683-690, 2011.
40 mm per year…
Deschamps et al., Ice-sheet collapse and sea-level rise at the Bolling warming 14,600 years ago, Nature, March 29, 2012.

a.      20 feet… O’Leary – Australia, The authors say 6m (20 feet) of sea level rise at 120,000 year before present in 1,000 years. Their data appear to show a few hundred years.

b.     Oleary et al., Ice sheet collapse following a prolonged period of stable sea level during the last interglacial, Nature Geoscience, July 28, 2013.


d.     20 to 29 feet… Sea level in recent interglacials  with the Eemian, MIS 5e (~129,000 to 116,000 years ago) experiencing  sea level rise of 6 to 9 meters above today and a global temperature a few degrees C above today. During MIS 11 (Mid Pleistocene, ~424,000 to 395,000 years ago) there was 6 to 13 m of sea level rise and the temperature was about the same as today.

e.      Dutton et al., Sea-level rise due to polar ice-sheet mass loss during warm periods, Science, July 10, 2015.


g.     65 feet plus sea level rise mid-Pleistocene…

h.     Hearty, MIS 11 rocks! The “smoking gun” of a catastrophic +20 m eustatic sea-level rise, Pages, April 2007.


j.       Hearty et al., A +20 m middle Pleistocene sea-level highstand (Bermuda and the Bahamas) due to partial collapse of Antarctic ice, Geology, 1999. (abstract only)


l.       Hearty, The Kaena highstand on Oahu, Hawaii: Further evidence of Antarctic Ice collapse during the middle, Pacific Science, 2002.'ena_Highstand_of_O'ahu_Hawai'i_Further_Evidence_of_Antarctic_Ice_Collapse_during_the_Middle_Pleistocene

13) Recent sea level rise rate jump… Sea level rise from 1900 to 1990 was about 1.5 mm per year and from 1990 to 2010 3.2 mm per year. Since 2010 there seems to have been a another jump in the sea level rise rate that puts it above 5 mm per year based on NOAA’s sea level data.

14) Dynamical Ice Sheet Collapse Modeling Arrives…The abstract from DeConto and Pollard states: “model coupling ice sheet and climate dynamics—including previously underappreciated processes linking atmospheric warming with hydrofracturing of buttressing ice shelves and structural collapse of marine-terminating ice cliffs—that is calibrated against Pliocene and Last Interglacial sea-level estimates and applied to future greenhouse gas emission scenarios. Antarctica has the potential to contribute more than a metre of sea-level rise by 2100 and more than 13 metres by 2500, if emissions continue unabated.”
DeConto and Pollard, Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea level rise, Nature, March 31, 2016.

15) Sea level rise of over 10 feet in 100 years during the previous interglacial warm period 121,000 years ago… During the short warm period before our last 100,000 year-long ice age very similar to what we are experiencing today, marine archeologists tell us a reef called Xcaret was suddenly drowned. This reef was in a stable area of the Yucatan Peninsula not affected by subsidence or geologic uplift processes.  Some corals are very picky about the depth of water that they grow in and the Elkhorn coral in particular was devastated by a sea level jump of 12 feet about 121,000 years ago. This time frame matches fairly well with the most recent collapse known of the West Antarctic Ice sheet from research by the British Antarctic Survey in 2010. The jump happened in a time period similar to that of the life of an elkhorn coral, which is 12 to 24 years.
Blanchon, et al., Rapid sea level rise and reef back stepping at the close of the last interglacial highstand, Nature, April 2009.  First Paragraph, page 884: “During those jumps, direct measurement of rise rates shows that they exceeded 36 mm per year.” (1.2 feet per decade)

15A) One meter sea level rise adaptation limit… “only a limited number of adaptation options are available for specific coastal areas if sea level exceeds a certain threshold (1 m) at the end of the century.”IPCC 2013, Physical Science Basis, Chapter 5, Coastal Systems and Low-lying Areas, Adaptation opportunities, Constraints and Limits, Page 393, paragraph 10.

16) West Antarctic Ice Sheet Collapse Began Shortly After the Turn of the Century… Vaughan summarized the science around West Antarctic Ice Sheet Collapse beginning in 1981. While the mechanisms for ocean melt were present in publication from the early 1990s, it was not until the early 2000s that work first showed definitive evidence of thinning, grounding line retreat, and ice stream acceleration in one of the most sensitive area of West Antarctica, the Amundsen Sea Embayment. Vaughan concludes that if these symptoms are indeed precursors to collapse, then collapse has begun. From what we know today, he was absolutely correct. Vaughan, West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse – the fall and rise of a paradigm, Climatic Change, 2008, see the abstract.

17) Increased Antarctic Sea Ice Increases ocean warming…The underice melt caused by ocean warming creates a feedback where the fresh water melt floats on the saltier ocean water, less salty water freezes faster and the combination of the isolation of saltier water from the surface due to the layer of fresh water and increased presence of sea ice decreases cooling caused by wind mixing during the Antartic Autumn and winter.
Bintanja et al., Important role for ocean warming and increased ice-shelf melt in Antarctic sea-ice expansion, Nature Geoscience, March 31, 2013.
Researchgate (free account

18) Amundsen Sea Embayment… The Amundsen Sea Embayment includes several of the largest outlet glaciers in West Antarctica and is likely the Achilles Heel of the WAIS. It is thinning more rapidly and has seen velocity increases higher than anywhere in Antarctica and its retreat is linked to complete Collapse of the WAIS in modeling.
Sutterley et al., Mass loss of the Amundsen Sea Embayment of West Antarctica from four independent techniques, Geophysical Research Letters, December 15, 2014.

19) Underice melt in excess of 100 meters per year… Amundsen Sea Embayment, Pine Island Glacier at the grounding line.
Dutrieux et al., Pine Island glacier ice shelf melt distributed at kilometre scales, The Cryosphere, September 26, 2013.

20) Self Imposed Speed Limit on Ice Cliff Collapse… Personal communication, May 15, 2016, Prof. Rob DeConto, Department of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts-Amherst.