Antarctica Is Now Melting Six Times Faster Than It Was In 1979

Gwen Vasquez
January 17, 2019

Sea levels could rise by "metres" because Antarctic ice is melting six times as quickly as before, 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.

Warming ocean water will only speed up ice loss in the future, and experts say sea levels will continue to mount for centuries, no matter what human do now to rein in climate change.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was a collaborative effort by glaciologists from the University of California, Irvine, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Netherlands' Utrecht University.

These geological records, say Levy and Meyers, suggest significant variability in the size of the Antarctic Ice Sheet driven by the predictable changes in Earth's astronomical parameters and threshold changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

"This study adds to our knowledge of the history of the behaviour of Antarctica's ice sheets and is yet more proof that urgent action is needed on emissions".

The outward ice flow is normal and natural, and it is typically offset by some 2 trillion tons of snowfall atop Antarctica each year, a process that on its own would leave Earth's sea level relatively unchanged. This new data from the Antarctic could push that even further. Between 2009 and 2017, Antarctica lost roughly 252 gigatons of ice annually.

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Antarctica contains 90% of the world's glacier ice - enough ice to raise world sea level by over 60 meters (almost 200 feet) if it were all to melt.

"Persistent sea ice appears to have helped maintain a degree of stability in the Antarctic Ice Sheet".

"As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-metre sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries" with continued man-made global warming, he wrote in a statement. It's when the outflow rate is greater than the snowfall accumulation rate that sea levels rise - and this is happening more than ever. But this study finds a vast quarter of eastern Antarctica is now becoming a bigger player and "is a great concern as well". But across the Transantarctic mountains to the east, there's a much larger mantle of ice that's generally thought to be keeping its chill.

Rignot said that one of the key findings of the project is the contribution East Antarctica has made to the total ice mass loss picture in recent decades, the PTI report mentioned.

"Our expectation would be that the Earth and the ice sheets become much more sensitive again to this obliquity forcing".

"Sea ice creates a barrier between the ocean and the ice", Levy said. Between 1979 and 2017, Antarctic ice loss increased by a factor of six, causing sea levels to rise by half an inch. To prevent climate catastrophe, we urgently need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by switching to renewable, non-polluting fuels.

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