Antarctic Ice Sheet is Melting Three Times as Fast as Before

17 June, 2018, 05:56 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • 800px-Glacier_on_Antarctic_coast

The study, published today in Nature, found that annual ice loss in West Antarctica - the most vulnerable to warming temperatures - was nearly three times higher than an earlier estimate in 2012, from 59 billion tons a year to 159 billion tons a year. The rate at which Antarctica is losing ice has more than doubled since 2012 as per the latest available data. This could lead eventually to the collapse of the entire west Antarctic ice sheet, and around 3.5m of sea-level rise.

"We took all the estimates across all the different techniques, and we got this consensus", said Isabella Velicogna, an Antarctic expert at the University of California at Irvine and one of the study's authors in The Washington Post.

But that's because those reports are about sea ice, not ice sheets.

It is noted that if the next decade is not taken, the melted ice can add more than 25 cm to the overall increase in sea level in the world by 2070. In East Antarctica the picture has been muddled as the ice sheet there gained mass in some years and lost it in others.

"In the past we've been persuaded of a narrative that sea level rise affects people in low-lying countries in the Pacific Ocean, and while that's devastating for them, it might not be a problem for a majority of the world's population", Shepherd said. If the sea ice melts the sea would probably rise half a meter from where it was in 2000 which would wreak havoc on United States costs. It holds enough water to cause as much as 34 meters of sea level rise if the ice sheet were to melt completely. The continent is melting so fast, that it will contribute to six inches ( 15 centimetres) to sea level rise by 2100.

"However, if we recognise the importance of Antarctica in the global environment, then there is the potential for worldwide co-operation that uses evidence to enact changes that avoid "tipping points" - boundaries that once crossed, would cause runaway change, such as the collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet".

While the sediment was the product of erosion from the continent, the low levels of tell-tale chemical signatures reveal that the sediment experienced only minimal exposure to cosmic radiation, leading the team to conclude East Antarctica must have remained covered in ice.


In West Antarctica, ice shelves are being eaten away by warm ocean water, and those in the Amundsen and Bellingshausen seas have thinned by as much as 18 percent since the early 1990s.

Shepherd brushed off skeptics who claim that climate change isn't the driving factor behind this massive melting of the ice sheet. According to scientists, this could be the beginning of the formation of a new ocean.

Two of these glaciers - Pine Island and Thwaites - have accelerated and are today seen as unstable.

When an ice shelf loses contact with such "pinning points", the glacier reacts as if someone had suddenly released a giant brake.

New and improved satellite missions, such as Sentinel-3, the recently launched Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) and the eagerly awaited ICESat-2, will continue to give researchers more detailed insights into the disappearance of Antarctic ice. 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.

In the Greenland study, levels of beryllium-10 found in sandy deposits brought out to sea in icebergs suggested the ice sheet has been a "persistent and dynamic" presence that melted and re-formed periodically in response to temperature fluctuations.

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