Scientists trace ice sheets in history of West, East Antarctica


A new study by an worldwide team of scientists has shown that more than three trillion tonnes of ice have melted in Antarctica since the year 1992.

Scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and two other institutions using decades of satellite measurements have demonstrated that the Antarctic ice sheet is thinning and contributing to a global ocean rise.

"We took all the estimates across all the different techniques, and we got this consensus", said Isabella Velicogna, an Antarctic expert at the University of California at Irvine and one of the study's authors in The Washington Post.

"A lot of the argument has been made by stakeholders that are not quite as interested in dealing with climate change that the East Antarctic ice sheet is actually gaining mass - therefore we don't need to worry", said Ms Michele Koppes, a glaciologist at the University of British Columbia, Canada.

Because of all the melted ice, the global sea level has risen by 7.6 millimetres.

Scientists were able to produce a more complete picture of Antarctic ice loss by compiling data from a wide array of monitoring efforts.

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"We are learning that ice shelves are more vulnerable to rising ocean and air temperatures than we thought", said Dow. Each of these satellites provide an independent way to measure Antarctica's past contribution to sea level rise.

Finally, the largest part of the continent, East Antarctica, has remained more stable and didn't contribute much ice to the ocean during the period of study, the assessment says. Thus, in General, the sea level could rise by 3.5 m.

"But where there is loss of sea ice, storm-generated ocean swells can easily reach the exposed ice shelf, causing the first few kilometres of its outer margin to flex".

Shakun's co-authors on the paper include Carling C. Hay, also of Boston College; researchers Lee B. Corbett, Paul R. Bierman, Kristen Underwood and Donna M. Rizzo of the University of Vermont; Susan R. Zimmerman of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Marc W. Caffee of Purdue University; and Tim Naish and Nicholas R. Golledge of Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

According to the latest data, the loss of Antarctic ice is accelerating.

It also found that although the total area of sea ice surrounding Antarctica has shown little overall change during the satellite era, there are signs of a longer-term decline when mid-twentieth century ship-based observations are considered.

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"If we aren't already alert to the dangers posed by climate change, this should be an enormous wake-up call", he added.

Two of these glaciers - Pine Island and Thwaites - have accelerated and are today seen as unstable. Prior to 2012, the polar ice cap was shedding 76 billion tons of ice per year.

When an ice shelf loses contact with such "pinning points", the glacier reacts as if someone had suddenly released a giant brake.

The study appears in the journal Nature.

If this scenario continues, the sea level would rise by 15 cm by 2100 leaving a constant threat to peninsular and island nations and also coastal areas of United States as it is enough to flood Brooklyn.

If no one does anything to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and the planet continues to warm then a scenario would come when a quarter of the volume of the sea ice would probably disappear by 2070, fishes and penguins will die and the U.S. could see $1 trillion in damage.

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The researchers relied on samples taken as part of the worldwide ANtarctic geological DRILLing (ANDRILL) project.