Antarctica Is Melting Three Times Faster Than a Decade Ago


An global team of polar scientists found that melting in Antarctica has jumped sharply from an average of 76 billion tonnes per year prior to 2012, to around 219 billion tonnes each year between 2012 and 2017.

"Some of the changes Antarctica will face are already irreversible, such as the loss of some ice shelves, but there is a lot we can prevent or reverse", said Martin Siegert, study co-author and professor at the Grantham Institute in London.

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.

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

West Antarctica lost 159 billion tons of ice a year from 2012 through 2017, compared with just 65 billion tons from 2002 through 2007.

The analysis suggests that 3 trillion tons' worth of Antarctic ice losses have increased global sea levels by 7.6 mm (0.3 inches) since 1992, and that the increase is accelerating.

Most of the ice loss charted stems from rapid melting in West Antarctica, and especially its Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers.

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"We took all the estimates across all the different techniques, and we got this consensus", Isabella Velicogna, an Antarctic ice expert at the University of California at Irvine, told The Washington Post.

In 2017, that number had risen to 0.6mm per year.

As shown in the video above, these changes are not uniform over the entire Antarctic ice sheet.

The result also reinforces that nations have a short window - perhaps no more than a decade - to cut greenhouse gas emissions if they hope to avert some of the worst consequences of climate change.

"The satellite measurements tell us that the ice sheet is much more dynamic than we used to think", he said. However, a period of heavy snowfall between 2005 and 2010 masked some of the immediate effects of the ice loss, accounting for the sudden, steep increase in more recent years.

More than 90 percent of that frozen water sits atop East Antarctica, which has remained mostly stable even as climate change has driven up Earth's average surface temperature by a full degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

"If you start removing mass from there, you can have a very large scale evacuation of ice into the ocean and significant sea level rise, " she continued. "We will not necessarily see exclusively rapid retreat, " said Christianson, noting that as glaciers like Pine Island retreat backwards down a submarine, downhill slope, they will sometimes encounter bumps that slow down their movement. In East Antarctica the picture has been muddled as the ice sheet there gained mass in some years and lost mass in others.

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Under any scenario, oceans will continue to rise for several centuries, scientists say.

Antarctica is one of the world's fastest-warming regions.

"This does not mean that at current atmospheric carbon dioxide levels Antarctica won't contribute to sea level rise".

Covering twice the area of the continental United States, Antarctica is blanketed by enough ice pack to lift global oceans by almost 60 metres (210 feet).

Those signs help researchers to gauge the pace of ice retreat in Antarctica - estimated in the past to be about 164 feet (50 meters) each year - between glacial cycles, Shepherd said.

For the new study, the scientists combined data from three types of satellite measurements to track changes in ice over time, study co-author Andrew Shepherd, a professor of Earth observation with the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, told Live Science.

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