The Global and Local Climatic Response to the Collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet

Monday, 15 December 2014
Kathleen M Huybers1,2, Hansi Singh2, Nathan John Steiger2, Dargan M Frierson2, Eric J. Steig2 and Cecilia M Bitz2, (1)Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA, United States, (2)University of Washington, Seattle, WA, United States
Glaciologists have suggested that a relatively small external forcing may compromise the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). Further, there is compelling physical evidence that the WAIS has collapsed in the past, at times when the mean global temperature was only a few degrees warmer than it is today. In addition to a rapid increase in global sea level, the collapse of the WAIS could also affect the global circulation of the atmosphere.

Ice sheets are some of the largest topographic features on Earth, causing large regional anomalies in albedo and radiative balance. Our work uses idealized aquaplanet models in tandem with a fully coupled ocean/atmosphere/sea-ice model (CCSM4) to compare the atmospheric, radiative, and oceanic response to a complete loss of the WAIS. Initial findings indicate that the loss of the WAIS leads to a weakening and equator-ward shift of the zonal winds, a development of strong zonal asymmetries in the meridional wind, and a northward migration of the Intertropical Convergence Zone. We aim to characterize how the local and global climate is affected by the presence of the WAIS, and how changes in the distribution of Southern Hemisphere ice may be represented in the proxy record.