Published: Thu, January 17, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Antarctica Melt Has Accelerated 280 Percent in Past 40 Years

Antarctica Melt Has Accelerated 280 Percent in Past 40 Years

Global warming is melting ice in Antarctica faster than ever before - about six times more per year now than 40 years ago - leading to increasingly high sea levels worldwide, scientists have warned.

The team compared the buildup of snow on the Antarctic Ice Sheet with the amount of ice that glaciers slough off into the Southern Ocean between 1979 and 2017 using aerial photographs, radar measurements taken from space and Landsat satellite imagery.

"The mass loss is dominated by enhanced glacier flow in areas closest to warm, salty, subsurface circumpolar deep water, including East Antarctica, which has been a major contributor over the entire period", a statement in the study said.

The sectors losing the most ice are adjacent to warm ocean water.

The researchers, including those from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Utrecht University in the Netherlands, were able to discern that between 1979 and 1990, Antarctica shed an average of 40 gigatonnes of ice mass annually.

The scientists combined 40 years of satellite images and climate modelling and found the East Antarctic Ice Sheet - considered largely insulated from the ravages of climate change - may also be melting at an accelerating rate.

The study is in Monday's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"What's different is the mass budget team [the new study's authors] have changed the way they estimate errors, which makes their results appear to be about five times more precise", Shepherd wrote Earther in an email, adding that the new results for East Antarctica represent something of an "outlier". While that paper determined Antarctica has lost about 3 trillion tons of ice since the early 1990s, it didn't resolve much of a trend for East Antarctica, which the authors concluded might even be gaining mass due to increased snowfall. Previously, climate scientists thought that East Antarctica wasn't so vulnerable to net ice loss, but that may all be wishful thinking.

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A number of studies have shown that global sea levels have risen approximately 8 inches over the past century, with sea-level rises getting higher in some parts of the globe.

Millions of people living in coastal cities around the world could be threatened with flooding as the pace of melting is expected to lead to disastrous sea level rise in the years to come, a study has claimed.

For now, the ice melt and corresponding sea-level rise remains at a manageable level.

"The study confirms that in some regions, glaciers have accelerated". "Our record thus provides the first direct indication of a much smaller LIG WAIS, providing paleo-context for the susceptibility of the WAIS to collapse".

He said a lot has changed in 15 years and it's not yet known what else will.

As global average temperatures continue to rise, it's becoming increasingly clear that ice at the poles is melting faster than ever before.

"Our main concern is just trying to figure out what's going to happen to those ice sheets in the future so that we can perhaps better prepare for resulting change particularly as sea levels go up".

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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