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Potential rise in sea level from polar melt very serious

Potential rise in sea level from polar melt very serious, says UC expert

September 5, 2012

University of Canterbury’s (UC) Antarctic head Bryan Storey is worried that not enough notice is being taken of the potential threat of rising sea level in the rebuild of Christchurch.

Sea levels are predicted to rise up to 60 centimetres in the next 100 years and perhaps as much as a metre, UC’s Gateway Antarctica director Professor Storey said today.

``This is very serious. All the research that is taking place suggests current estimates of sea level rise have underestimated the threat. The dynamic ice changes that we are beginning to see in Antarctica were not included in the last assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

``That leads me to believe we have underestimated the threat in the past few years. We have an opportunity to do something about this here in Christchurch as we rebuild the city after the earthquakes,’’ he said.

UC has 18 staff involved in Antarctic research and 19 PhD students examining the many issues. The spotlight on the polar region intensifies in Christchurch next week with the opening of the Icefest festival which runs in Hagley Park for a month from September 14. UC is a strategic partner and playing a large role in promoting the event.

Professor Storey said UC staff are looking at the stability of the Antarctic ice sheets, what impact climate change was having on Antarctic ice, and the speed with which it was moving. One of the UC projects is also looking at changes in sea ice thickness. In the Arctic sea ice is disappearing, whereas in the Antarctic sea ice is likely to thin first before it disappears.

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``Parts of Antarctica are warming as fast if not faster than anywhere else on the planet. This is mainly due to the ozone hole which is, ironically, keeping parts of Antarctica cold but resulting in extreme warming in other parts.

``We expect the ozone hole to stop forming in about 50 to 70 years resulting in a bigger impact of climate warming in Antarctica. This gives us a window of opportunity to establish baselines of current ice movement and thickness which is the focus of our research,’’ Storey said.

The growing number of people working in the polar region as a result of the increased awareness of the importance of Antarctica in a warming world is increasing the risk of contamination not just through accidents like fuel spills but through living daily in an extreme environment, he said.

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