A major £4 million EU-funded study to investigate how changes in Antarctica’s ice sheets and shelves may lead to a large and irreversible rise in global sea level over the coming decades is about to begin.

Experts from the UK, Norway, Germany and France will work together to investigate the likelihood of abrupt changes in the movement of ice in the Antarctic region over the next 100 years.

Northumbria University is the only UK partner in the consortium and receives the largest part of the total funding, worth £1.2 million.

While some parts of the environment may respond gradually to changes in climate, others may potentially undergo large and sudden irreversible step changes with global implications – which is known as a tipping point.

The researchers will investigate the possibility that climate change may drive the Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Southern Ocean towards such a tipping point.

Theoretical and numerical studies already suggest that this is possible. However, it is unclear how close the Antarctic climate system is to a tipping point, and how likely it is that global warming may cause abrupt and large-scale changes to the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Antarctica’s ice is based both on land – known as the ice sheet – and on sea, where it forms floating ice shelves bordering the land. The point where the ice sheets and ice shelves meet is called the grounding line. The ice shelves act as a safety band holding the land-based ice sheet in place. Read more.