Antarctica's Ice Is Melting Even Faster, and Scientists Are Deeply Worried

Antarctica's Ice Is Melting Even Faster, and Scientists Are Deeply Worried

The findings should dispel any lingering doubts that the continent's ice mass is shrinking, the authors said.

"With continued rise of what this type of study is pointing to, which is that the rise may substantially increase by the end of the century compared to historical rates, areas like Norfolk, Charleston, Miami, a lot of the southeast United States that's very flat, low terrain, particularly stand to really feel the effects of melting in Antarctica", he said.

A new report in Nature suggests that the rate of melting of crucial Antarctic ice sheets has tripled during the past 25 years and is accelerating sea level rise. Scientists can also detect markers of where ice sheets once covered Antarctica by looking at the seabed around the western part of the continent, which holds traces of where glaciers were pinned in the past, Shepherd explained.

"The kinds of changes that we see today, if they were not to increase much more. then maybe we're talking about something that is manageable for coastal stakeholders, " said DeConto. A single East Antarctic glacier, Totten, has the potential to unleash as much total sea level rise as the entire West Antarctic ice sheet, or more.

"We view these results as another ringing alarm for action to slow the warming of our planet". "This study shows that we're actually losing more mass along the edges of the ice sheet, where the ice sheet is making contact with the ocean, and that the warming oceans are melting the ice", Koppes said.

Overall, world sea levels have risen nearly 8 inches in the past century, driven mainly by a natural expansion of water already in the oceans as it warms along with a thaw of glaciers form the Andes to the Alps.

Some studies had suggested a net gain in mass over recent decades.

When you add the melting seen on Antarctica to other sources of land-based ice melt, "every millimeter per year counts", William Sweet, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told CBS News.

His team analysed the Larsen A and Larsen B, and Wilkins ice-shelf disintegration events, and found that lack of sea-ice was a common factor.

"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.

Almost all of the mass shed over the last quarter century has come from West Antarctica, the study found.

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A group of 80 Antarctic experts said that in the two decades prior to 2012, the continent lost about 76 billion tons of ice annually, which caused about 0.2 millimeters of sea-level rise a year.

The researchers attribute the increased losses in West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsular to changes in regional floating-ice shelves, which can provide a buffer to continental-ice sheets.

The new findings are the result of the most complete satellite survey of Antarctic ice sheet change to date, involving 84 scientists from 44 global organizations (including NASA and the European Space Agency). The tally has since jumped to 0.6mm a year. Since 1993, the global ocean watermark has gone up by 84.8 mm (3.3 inches).

"But the good news is that a reduction in emissions in line with the aspirations of the Paris Climate Agreement dramatically reduces the risk of flooding our coastlines in future decades and centuries".

While we can't be sure that ice loss rates will continue to climb in this manner, researchers are concerned that the trend will remain upward.

This region has grown by an average of around 5 billion tonnes per year over the 25-year period, although margins of error could put that figure into the negative.

"This has to be a concern for the governments we trust to protect our coastal cities and communities", says Andrew Shepherd from the University of Leeds, one of the study leads.

In a separate analysis piece in Nature today, climate scientist and Antarctic policy expert Professor Rob DeConto warned that Antarctica may contribute more to sea-level rise than previously thought.

Scientists not involved with the study lauded its methodology.

"Satellites have given us an fantastic, continent-wide picture of how Antarctica is changing", said Dr. Pippa Whitehouse, a member of the IMBIE team from Durham University, according to a University of Leeds press release.

"The outcome is deeply concerning", commented Imperial College London professor Martin Siegert, who did not take part in the study. Coastal communities along the USA could feel the impact of a continued increase as melting ice adds to sea level rise, say experts.

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