EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Multistability and transient response of the Greenland ice sheet to anthropogenic CO2 emissions

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

Ongoing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere and associated temperature rise have dramatic consequences for the ice sheets on our planet. In this presentation, we focus on the Greenland ice sheet, which holds so much ice that a complete melting would cause the global sea level to rise by seven meters. However, a prediction of future mass loss of the Greenland ice sheet is challenging because it is a strongly non-linear function of temperature and occurs over very long timescales. With the fully coupled Earth system model of intermediate complexity CLIMBER-X, we study the stability of the Greenland ice sheet and its transient response to CO2 emissions over the next 20 kyr. We find two bifurcation points within a global mean surface air temperature anomaly of 1.5°C. Each of these bifurcation points corresponds to a critical ice volume. If the Greenland ice sheet volume decreases below these critical values, returning to a previous atmospheric CO2 concentration would not cause the ice sheet to grow back to its previous state. We also find increased mass loss rates and increased sensitivity of mass loss to cumulative CO2 emission in the vicinity of these critical ice volumes. Altogether, our results suggest that global warming near the lower 1.5°C limit of the Paris agreement would already cause the Greenland ice sheet to irreversibly melt, although a complete melting would take thousands of years.

How to cite: Höning, D., Willeit, M., and Ganopolski, A.: Multistability and transient response of the Greenland ice sheet to anthropogenic CO2 emissions, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-16930,, 2023.

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