Global sea levels are rising as the thick caps of ice are melting on Greenland - like this glacier - and at Antarctica. (Photo: ESA/NASA)

DTU Space gets large grant for global sea level rise research

Ice research Climate change Satelittes Earth observation
Professor and climate researcher Shfaqat Abbas Khan has received DKK 37 million from the Novo Nordisk Foundation for research into global sea level rise research caused by melting of the Arctic and Antarctic ice-sheets. The research is based on data from satellites and other sources.

Global sea levels are rising as the thick caps of ice on Greenland and Antarctica melt. According to the UN's climate panel IPCC, sea level rise may affect up to 630 million people around the globe by 2100.

But it is difficult to predict how much the seas will rise around the world's coasts when ice -sheets melt due to global warming. Among other things due to poor scientific understandig of ice-sheet instability.

So there is a need for more precise models, so that researchers and decision makers can get a better overview from which to act on the effects global climate changes. For this purpose, professor at DTU Space Shfaqat Abbas Khan has just received a grant of DKK 37 million from the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

The aim is to get a better understanding of the underlying physical processes and develop a new model for the melting of the ice caps and the resulting sea level rise.

"With a new and better model of ice-sheet melting that we will develop, we will be able to predict much more precisely how the world's oceans will rise towards 2100," says Shfaqat Abbas Khan.

"We are developing an ice-sheet model that for example can make better forecasts of how much higher the water level will be on the coasts in different parts of the world".

International cooperation lead by DTU Space

In connection with the grant, the "Center for Ice-sheet and Sea-level Predictions" (CISP) is established. The center will improve the ice sheet models by including geological and historical geodetic data on the ice for the first time as well as measurements from satellites.

Shfaqat Abbas Khan is the PI leading the project, which is based at DTU and takes place in collaboration with the National Geological Surveys for Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), the University of Copenhagen and the Dartmouth College in the US.

This kind of climate research is in great demand by the UN and the IPCC, which is also part of the reason why the Novo Nordisk Foundation supports the project, which runs over six years.

How much ice that will melt in the future from the Arctic and Antarctica ice-sheets, and exactly how much the sea-level in the world's oceans will rise as a result, depends on a wide range of factors. Among other things, how stable the ice-sheets are.

If large pieces break off the ice shelves, in Greenland and Antarctica, it can further accelerate the melting process.

"I look forward to this new collaboration, where we will hopefully be able to create the basis for much more accurate modeling and prediction of the global sea-levels rise towards 2100. And thus provide essential inputs for adaption strategies in affected regions and communities around the world," says the DTU Space professor.

The melting is accelerating

The ice that covers Greenland and Antarctica is melting faster and faster these years, causing the world's oceans to rise. Measurements from 1990 onwards, which are mainly based on data from satellites, aircraft and measurements on the ice-sheets, show this trend.

Using satellite data and other sourcers Shfaqat Abbas Khan and colleagues have documented a global sea-level rise of averagely 2 millimeters annually during the 1990s. In the 2010s this figure had accelerated to 4.4 millimeters annually.

According to the latest climate report from the IPCC, AR6, sea levels will rise between 63 and 101 cm towards 2100, as more ice melts from the Arctic and Antarctic as a result of primarly man-made climate changes. This is likely in a 'business-as-usual’ scenario.

But as the ice-sheet melting accelerates and the ice becomes more unstable, the sea level rises could be even larger. According to the IPCC, there is a risk of sea level rise of around two meters in total, even in a moderate scenario.

"Sea-level rises from 0.6 and up to just over 2 meters will have major consequences for the world's population," states Shfaqat Abbas Khan.

"That is why it is important that we develop more precise models, which are based on data from many years of satellite measurements and historical data about the ice, to best predict how much and where the seas will rise in the future under different scenarios" .