Earth Science Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for those interested in the geology, meteorology, oceanography, and environmental sciences. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I'm thinking biggest in volume, regarding which area of the planet will contribute more to a raising in sea level - were the ice in those regions to melt.

I can basically think of to candidates, namely Greenland and Antarctica. So maybe some comparison between the contributions of the two would be great.

share|improve this question
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Antarctica is the ice sheet (cap) that will contribute most IF it would melt completely. The 2013 IPCC report (Ch. 4, the Cryosphere) provides an estimate of 58.3 m of sea level equivalent (sle). Greenland would if completely wasted away provide 7.36 m sle. Remaining glaciers provide an additional 0.41 m sle. The likelihood of Antarctica completely wasting away seems unlikely with our current understanding although the so-called West Antarctic Ice sheet (closes to the Antarctic Penninsula is sitting with its base deep below the current sea level) is far more likely to be lost than the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Hence the contribution from Antarctica is likely less than the maximum number. Greenland on the other hand is thought to have a "point of no return" beyond which it will irreversibly be lost given the current or warmer climate. Since Greenland is mostly land-based, much of the mass loss will be by surface melting while West-Antarctica can lose much of its mass by ice berg calving which is likely a much faster loss mechanism. Estimates on the scenarios are emerging but there are still uncertainties and there may also be feedbacks that we either do not fully understand or have not yet seen that can change these scenarios (particularly for West-Antarctica). This Science article published online May 12 2014 is a good example of emerging research on the stability issues of West Antarctica.

share|improve this answer
Thank you! You provided me with a clear measurement of both contributions. Also thank you for the IPCC link. – harogaston May 13 '14 at 20:05
I have seen predictions for sea level rise as a result of the West Antarctic ice sheet melting ranging from 3.3 meter to 7 meter (sorry, no reference). – Jan Doggen Dec 15 '14 at 22:31

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.