How to melt an ice sheet

Professor McKay explores Earth's history to understand how rising CO2 levels impact Antarctica's ice sheets, shedding light on future.

Melting an ice sheet is simple—just add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, warm the planet, and check in on it later. But much how later? This may sound like a mad science experiment, but it is one that we are all taking part in, with potentially devasting consequences for the planet. Carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere are at their highest since at least three million years ago and rising at an unprecedented rate.

Sea level rise resulting from the collapse of Antarctica’s marine-based ice sheets remain the largest uncertainty in assessments of future sea level rise risk. Despite the uniquely rapid nature of this current climate change experiment, Earth has experienced shifts in atmospheric carbon dioxide in the past, creating natural experiments to investigate how the Earth’s climate and ice sheets have responded.

In this lecture, Professor McKay examines the geological evidence for how Antarctica’s ice sheet has responded to a shift in greenhouse gases through geological time. He will explore how this hard-won data has fundamentally altered our understanding of how quickly and extensive ice sheet melt could occur in the future.

Two professionally dressed academics with gowns standing in front of a piece of artwork.
Inaugural lecture: Provost, Professor Bryony James and Professor Robert McKay

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