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October 15, 2015

WSU professor warns of climate impact on real estate

A paper published Thursday by a team that includes a Worcester State University faculty member warns that rising sea levels over the next several decades could significantly impact coastal communities.

"We really need a drop in carbon dioxide," Douglas E . Kowalewski, assistant professor of earth, environment and physics at WSU, said in a statement from WSU. "We need to cut down to pre-1990 emissions levels. ... That's the only way we don't lose the West Antarctic ice sheet."

That precarious portion of the Antarctic serves as a sort of barometer of progress on climate change, researchers say.

Kowalewski is the lead American author of the paper in Nature, titled “"The Multi-Millennial Antarctic Commitment to Sea Level Rise." The new research confirms the likelihood of a substantial rise in global sea level in the future if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.

The research team, led by a New Zealand scientist, used computer modeling to simulate the ice sheet’s response to a warming climate under a range of greenhouse gas emission scenarios depicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2013 Assessment Report. Kowalewski and collaborators found that all but one of the scenarios — that of significantly reduced emissions by 2050 — would lead to the loss of large parts of the Antarctic ice-sheet, which in turn would result in a substantial, even devastating, rise in global sea levels.

Melting Antarctic ice threatens to raise sea levels close to 16 inches by 2100, swamping low-lying parts of major cities such as New York, Miami and Boston, especially during coastal storms, the statement from WSU said.

Ways to circumvent that outcome will be among the topics discussed when the United Nations Climate Change Conference is held beginning Nov. 30 in Paris, WSU said.

"One of the positives we can take from this is that we still hold the fate of the ice shelves, ice sheets, and sea level rise in our hands," Kowalewski said. "We haven't passed the tipping point where we no longer have control – but, we really need a drop in CO2."

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