Antarctica is experiencing a serious ice loss

16 June, 2018, 17:30 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • Antarctica holds enough frozen water to raise the global sea level by 58 metres

"The ice sheet is now losing three times as much ice", Shepherd told NPR, adding that the annual sea level rise attributed to Antarctica has similarly tripled ― from 0.2 mm to 0.6 mm.

"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.

Three trillion tonnes of ice is an near impossible thing to wrap your head around. If it were all to melt, as it has in the past, global sea levels would rise by 58 metres.

At the northern tip of the continent, ice-shelf collapse at the Antarctic Peninsula has driven an increase of 27.6 billion tons (25 billion metric tons) in ice loss per year since the early 2000s. Sea level rise is a threat to cities from NY to Shanghai as well as low-lying nations from the Pacific Ocean to the Netherlands.

An ice-penetrating radar system, towed behind a snowmobile, turns up unusual features beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

A single millimeter of global sea level rise is equivalent to 360 billion tons of melted ice, or an imaginary huge ice cube with sides about 4.35 miles long. "The future of Antarctica is tied to that of the rest of the planet and human society", said Steve Rintoul, of the Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research in Hobart, Tasmania, and one of the research team.

"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.

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

"I don't know if it's going to keep exactly tripling, but I think it has a lot of potential to keep significantly increasing", said Velicogna. "And we find that by combining all of the available measurements we can iron out the problems that individual techniques have". The Antarctic Peninsula is also shedding ice, though at a less rapid clip, while East Antarctica has remained fairly steady.


Antarctica is, on balance, losing its ice sheets and raising the world's sea levels. We suggest that Antarctic ice volume variations in response to the range of global temperature experienced over this period - up to 2-3 ̊C above preindustrial, which correspond to future scenarios with Carbon dioxide concentrations between 400 and 500 ppm - are instead driven mostly by retreat of marine ice margins, in agreement with the latest models.

"That's a big jump, and it did catch us all by surprise", Shepherd said.

The influx of large amounts of fresh water from melting Antarctic ice would also alter ocean currents on a global level.

The government wants an action plan in place to tackle climate change after a new report details its impact on health.

"Under natural conditions we don't expect the ice sheet to lose ice at all", Shepherd said.

Using both direct observation and remote sensing, they have watched fresh water running off the polar surface in the summer and recorded the first signs of invasive plants on rocks that were once all but barren. Budgets proposed by the Trump administration have called for a reduction in some Earth-observation programs.

Lead author Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds told NPR that prior to 2012, Antarctica's ice losses had been contributing a "relatively small proportion" to global sea level rise.

"What we have seen as the climate has warmed is that more warm water is reaching the Antarctic ice sheet and that's what is melting the sea ice", he said.

Understanding the rate of Antarctica's melting is crucial for these communities.

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