EGU General Assembly 2022
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the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Impact of cumulative anthropogenic carbon emissions, emission duration, and negative emission scenarios on melting of the Greenland ice sheet

Dennis Höning, Reinhard Calov, Stefanie Talento, Matteo Willeit, and Andrey Ganopolski
Dennis Höning et al.
  • Potsdam-Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany (

Budgets of remaining anthropogenic carbon emissions have been estimated to keep global warming below a limit (IPCC report 2021). A main impact of global warming is the rise of the sea level caused by melting of the Greenland ice sheet. However, the response of the Greenland ice sheet to temperature rise is strongly nonlinear. Melting depends on the time interval at which the ice sheet is exposed to high temperatures and on its rate of change, and a short time interval of high emission would therefore not necessarily result in the same sea level rise as long intervals of low emission. In order to make adequate predictions about sea level rise associated with melting of the Greenland ice sheet at specific times in the future, it is therefore crucial to explore the impact of cumulative emissions in combination with the emission duration.

We simulate Earth’s evolution for the next 20,000 years using CLIMBER-X, a fully coupled Earth System model of intermediate complexity, including modules for atmosphere, ocean, land surface, sea ice and the interactive 3-D polythermal ice sheet model SICOPOLIS, which is applied to the Greenland ice sheet at a spatial resolution of 16 km. In a first step, we explore equilibrium states of the volume of the Greenland ice sheet using constant partial pressures of atmospheric CO2. We also explore tipping points related to these states, i.e. unstable states of the ice volume where smaller values would lead to further melting until the associated stable state is reached. Next, we investigate the critical cumulative carbon emission to cross these tipping points. Finally, we assess the influence of the emission duration on crossing the tipping points and on the convergence rate towards the associated equilibrium states. We also investigate to what extent future negative emissions could limit sea level rise.

Our results show how high carbon emission rates, even throughout a short time interval, cause the Greenland ice sheet system to rapidly approach equilibrium states of smaller ice volume. This convergence cannot completely be offset by future negative emissions. In contrast, a quick decrease of global emissions, even if in combination with an extended time period of small net emissions in the future, would substantially delay sea level rise and could even prevent the system from crossing the tipping points.

How to cite: Höning, D., Calov, R., Talento, S., Willeit, M., and Ganopolski, A.: Impact of cumulative anthropogenic carbon emissions, emission duration, and negative emission scenarios on melting of the Greenland ice sheet, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-5599,, 2022.