“Accurately predicting future sea level rise is one of the greatest challenges of our time,” says Earth scientist Dr Peter Bijl from Utrecht University. Bijl is one of three Geoscientists from Utrecht University who were awarded a prestigious grant for early-career researchers by the European Research Council on Friday. With his ERC Starting Grant worth 1.5 million euros Bijl will reconstruct the role of ocean conditions on fluctuations in the size of the Antarctic ice sheet for past warm climates. His research will contribute to a better understanding of ice sheet melt behaviour in the future.
Current projections of future sea level rise, including those by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are highly uncertain. “This is mainly because we don’t know how much of it is caused by melting of the Antarctic ice sheet,” explains Bijl. “Unlike what was initially believed, warming of the oceans strongly influences the stability of the Antarctic ice sheets.” In places where the Antarctic ice sheet melts most severely, it is not the warming atmosphere but the ocean water that contributes most to melting of the ice. According to Bijl, this points to a key role for the interaction between ice and ocean in the stability of the Antarctic ice sheet, and therefore global sea level. “Despite the importance of this interaction, it is poorly understood and therefore underrepresented in ice melt scenarios,” says Bijl. “This hampers adequate projections of future ice sheet melt on time scales of centuries or longer.”