Burning All Remaining Fossil Fuels Could Raise Sea Levels 60 Meters


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

2340 Burning All Remaining Fossil Fuels Could Raise Sea Levels 60 Meters

It seems Busted were right; by the year 3,000, many of us will be living underwater – if unrestrained burning of fossil fuels is allowed to continue.

Burning Earth’s remaining fossil fuels will cause significant melting of ice in Antarctica and raise global sea levels up to 30 meters (100 feet) by the end of the millennium, and up to twice that over a few thousand years, according to a new study. "If we don't stop dumping our waste CO2 into the sky, land that is now home to more than a billion people will one day be underwater," said lead author Carnegie’s Ken Caldeira, in a statement.


The study, published in the journal Science Advances, is the first to model unrestrained fossil fuel burning on the entirety of the Antarctic ice sheet. And the results, perhaps unsurprisingly, are somewhat dramatic.

It is estimated that there are 10 trillion tons of carbon locked up within accessible fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas. At current rates, 6-8% of this will be released in the next 60-80 years, which would cause the West Antarctic ice sheet to become unstable. Continued burning will ultimately have detrimental effects on the much larger East Antarctic ice sheet.

"The West Antarctic ice sheet may already have tipped into a state of unstoppable ice loss, whether as a result of human activity or not,” said co-author Anders Levermann, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in the statement. “But if we want to pass on cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Calcutta, Hamburg and New York as our future heritage, we need to avoid a tipping in East Antarctica.”

How emissions will affect Antarctic ice. Ken Caldeira and Ricarda Winkelmann.


If global warming does not exceed the oft-cited 2°C target, then sea level rises due to Antartic melting will be just a few meters, which is manageable, said the researchers. However, with each tenth of a degree that is added to this, the effects become more and more severe. 

Unrestrained fossil fuel burning would lead to sea level rises of three centimeters (more an inch) per year over the next 1,000 years. This would result in a rise of 30 meters (100 feet) by the year 3,000, and up to 60 meters (200 feet) over several thousand years.

"Our findings show that if we do not want to melt Antarctica, we can't keep taking fossil fuel carbon out of the ground and just dumping it into the atmosphere as CO2 like we've been doing," said Caldeira.


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  • global warming,

  • sea level,

  • Antarctic,

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  • 60 meters