If W. Antarctic Ice Sheet melts, how high will sea levels rise?
The answer he typically gets, he continues, ranges from 5 to 7 meters (16 to 23 feet). After all, this has become a kind of canonical range well-grounded in the scientific literature, right?
Not so much, it turns out. And therein lies some of the backstory to a study by Dr. Bamber and his Dutch and British colleagues that appears in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
Here's a bit of the backstory
When estimating what would happen if the WAIS vanished into the ocean, scientists have been using a figure for sea-level rise that first appeared in a peer-reviewed science journal 30 years ago. But the estimate itself had originated 10 years earlier in a paper that never appeared in a peer-reviewed journal, Bamber explained during his March talk. Both were written by the same scientist.
That doesn't necessarily mean the original calculations were wrong. But clearing peer review – as messy a process as it can be – provides a level of scrutiny that the original calculations apparently didn't undergo.
"The numbers are 40 years old," Bamber says. "And they're based on what? It's almost impossible to tell."
Better ways to track icecaps, now
Meanwhile, the tools used to study the planet's great ice caps have improved dramatically.