Ice loss in Antarctica is increasingly contributing to global sea level rise

Cesar Mills
June 16, 2018

Between 1992 and 2017, the rate of loss of ice from West Antarctica has risen threefold, from 59 billion metric tons per year to 159bn.

And the ice losses quickened to 219 billion tons a year since 2012, from 76 billion previously.

"It retreated inland by more than 1,000 kilometers in a period of 1,000 years in this region - on geological time-scales, this is really high-speed", Albrecht said in another statement. That's up from 84 billion tons ten years ago, and 54 billion tons ten years before that.

West Antarctica experienced the largest change, with ice losses growing from 53 billion tons per year in the 1990s to 159 billion tons annually since 2012.

Scientists have acknowledged that these sad results surpassed their expectations.

"I think we should be anxious".

Dozens of the world's leading Antarctic researchers contributed to the paper, which updates an analysis that had run until 2011.

The researchers concluded that the changes in East Antarctica were not almost enough to make up for the rapid loss seen in West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula. This roughly suggests that Antarctica glacial melting is now adding about 0.5 millimeters per year to sea level rise.

The researchers relied on samples taken as part of the worldwide ANtarctic geological DRILLing (ANDRILL) project.

We have long suspected that changes in Earth's climate will affect the polar ice sheets.

Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica is melting at an alarming rate.

This unthinkable vision can be avoided, but the researchers say the world's climate efforts in the next 10 years will be crucial to securing the mitigated benefits of a low emissions destiny - which would see Antarctica's ice shelves remain intact, only contributing about half a metre to sea level rise by 2070.

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Up to now, scientists have struggled in determining whether Antarctica has accumulated more mass through snowfall than it loses in meltwater run-off and ice flows into the ocean.

Forces "that are driving these changes are not going to get any better in a warming climate", said University of Colorado ice scientist Waleed Abdalati, a former NASA chief scientist who wasn't part of the study team.

The ice sheet mass balance inter-comparison exercise (IMBIE) is an worldwide effort: a team of 84 polar scientists from 44 organisations, including both of us, working together to provide a single, global record of ice loss from Earth's polar ice sheets. However, "a single East Antarctic glacier, Totten, has the potential to unleash as much total sea-level rise as the entire West Antarctic ice sheet, or more", the Post explains.

They also highlight the existential threat facing low-lying coastal cities and communities home to hundreds of millions of people.

The researchers pulled their data from sources including satellite observations and computer modeling.

Overall, world sea levels have risen nearly 8 inches in the past century, driven mainly by a natural expansion of water already in the oceans as it warms along with a thaw of glaciers form the Andes to the Alps. Their results were published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The frozen continent lost nearly 3 trillion tons of ice between 1992 and 2017, the 84 scientists said in what they called the most complete overview of Antarctic ice to date.

Although the general trend was of reduction, there was some increase in ice cover in East Antarctica.

"If we aren't already alert to the dangers posed by climate change, this should be an enormous wake-up call", he added.

"This is a concerning thing if you consider that ice shelves exist around 75 per cent of the periphery of Antarctica".

"This study shows that we're actually losing more mass along the edges of the ice sheet, where the ice sheet is making contact with the ocean, and that the warming oceans are melting the ice", Koppes said.

Other reports by GizPress

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