Antarctic ice melting faster than previously thought

Cesar Mills
June 17, 2018

This does not include other dwindling ice sheets around the globe, including the massive one in Greenland.

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Finally, the largest part of the continent, East Antarctica, has remained more stable and didn't contribute much ice to the ocean during the period of study, the assessment says.

"Whilst there's still considerable uncertainty about East Antarctica mass balance, it is increasingly clear that ice loss from West Antarctica has accelerated", said Kate Hendry, a researcher at the University of Bristol, commenting on the findings.

Recent work by Rob DeConto, the 2016 victor of the Tinker prize and professor of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, includes findings in a 2016 paper also in Nature that highlights the potential for Antarctica to contribute much more sea level rise to the world's oceans than previously considered.

The speed that the ice melts is a key indicator of climate change.

Overall, world sea levels have risen about 20 cm in the past century. Each of these satellites provide an independent way to measure Antarctica's past contribution to sea level rise.

"We now have an unequivocal picture of what's happening in Antarctica", said co-lead author Eric Rignot, a scientist at NASA's Jet propulsion Laboratory who has been tracking Earth's ice sheets for two decades.

The Eastern Antarctic ice sheet, which is more protected from the ocean, has actually seen a slight rise in its coverage by about 5 billion tonnes.

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The two year study found that rising ocean and air temperatures are both destabilizing ice shelves from below and also causing them to crack on top, which ups the chance they might break off, according to a University of Waterloo press release published by Phys.org.

Antarctica's ice sheets are melting three times as fast as they were in 2007.

ESA's Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Josef Aschbacher, added, "CryoSat and Sentinel-1 are clearly making an essential contribution to understanding how ice sheets are responding to climate change and affecting sea level, which is a major concern".

Satellite surveys showed that, prior to 2012, Antarctica lost ice at a steady annual rate of 76 billion tons and contributed 0.2 millimeters per year to sea level rise. He blames the burning of coal, oil and natural gas as the cause of global warming.

Though the Antarctic Peninsula is plastered in snow and ice, the region is losing ice at an increasing rate.

"Sea ice acts as a protective buffer to ice shelves, by dampening destructive ocean swells before they reach the ice shelf edge". The narratives touch on long-term consequences of decisions made today for such variables as ice shelves, invasive species, sea ice, ocean and land ecosystems, mining and other human uses. As the continent rose, the ice sheet began to self-stabilize.

"The increasing mass loss that they're finding is really worrying, particularly looking at the West Antarctic, the area that's changing most rapidly and it's the area that we're most anxious about, because it's below sea level", said Christine Dow, a glaciologist at the University of Waterloo in Canada who was not involved in the research.

"Considering sea level rise, for example, the future rise could be a little smaller or a little larger, or a lot larger - there is a "long tail" on the "bad" side".

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