Antarctica Is Melting Three Times Faster Than a Decade Ago

Antarctica holds enough frozen water to raise the global sea level by 58 metres

The study shows that from 1992 through 2011, the continent lost ice at a rate of almost 84 billion tons of ice a year - accounting for a 0.2 mm per year contribution to sea level rise. However, ice retreat today is about more than 20 times that rate - more than 3,200 feet (1 kilometer) per year.

From 1992 through 1997, Antarctica lost 49 billion tons of ice annually.

That's a lot of ice.

Scientists have acknowledged that these sad results surpassed their expectations.

"We used different satellite missions and techniques because the various approaches we have at arriving at this number have different strengths and weaknesses", Shepherd said. "Things are happening faster than we expected", Isabella Velicogna of the University of California and one of the report's authors said.

"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.

The East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) is the largest potential contributor to future sea level rise, but projections are hindered by uncertainty in how the EAIS responded to past warm periods, for example during the Pliocene (5.3-2.6 Myr ago) when atmospheric Carbon dioxide concentrations were last ≥ 400 ppm.

Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds, who leads the Ice sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (Imbie), said it had always been suspecting changes in Earth's climate would affect the polar ice sheets.


They discovered the acceleration in the rate of ice loss when they did the calculations again for this study, this time with an additional five years of data.

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. 'There are no other plausible signals to be driving this other than climate change'. "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.

It can be easy to overlook the monstrous scale of the Antarctic ice sheet.

Watch below to see where the Antarctic ice sheet has been suffering its greatest losses over the past 25 years.

"The fate of Antarctica, the fate of Greenland, is the fate of Miami", she said. "But remember for the northern hemisphere, for North America, the fact that the location in West Antarctica is where the action is amplifies that rate of sea level rise by up to an about additional 25 percent in a city like Boston or NY". Scientists now say if the melt rate continues to rapidly increase then it could have serious implications for coastal communities around the world.

However, he said that there is growing evidence that projections of Antarctica's influence on sea-level rise may have been underestimated. "To do this, we need to keep watching the ice sheet closely, but we also need to look back in time and try to understand how the ice sheet responded to past climate change".

Sea levels will rise and all coastal countries could be seriously threatened by flooding if nothing is done to stop the massive melt of sea ice in Antarctica, according to nine award-winning scientists who have spent decades studying the icy continent and the waters around it. Breakups of ice no longer act as a natural buffer for inland ice and glaciers make their way downstream and to sea much quicker.

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