Antarctica Is Melting Three Times Faster Than a Decade Ago

Sea level contribution due to the Antarctic ice sheet between 1992 and 2017 from data gathered by international

Antarctica Has Lost 3 Trillion Tonnes of Ice Since '92

The West Antarctic ice sheet has lost almost three trillion tonnes of ice during this span - with a large chunk of the numbers coming in the last few years, according to research.

While the current ice loss measured is literally a drop in the ocean compared to Antartica's catastrophic potential to raise global sea level by as much as 58 metres (190 ft) if the ice sheets were to completely melt, the apparent acceleration in the latest satellite observations is enough to have scientists duly anxious.

Prior to 2012, the rate of ice loss held mostly steady at around 76 billion tonnes per year - equating to a 0.2 mm annual contribution to sea level rise.

But another decade after that, between 2012 and 2017, that number was 219 billion metric tons of ice lost per year.

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 growth is largely attributable to just two huge glaciers - Pine Island and Thwaites.

That might not sound like much, but what's particularly concerning is the way the ice loss has sharply accelerated over the course of the 25-year timeframe.

She also said that in light of the study, it is "very clear that now is absolutely not the time to back away from the science infrastructure that allows us to have information, so the coastal communities can plan with the best available information about what's happening down in Antarctica".

Looking closer, the rapid, recent changes are nearly entirely driven by the West Antarctic ice sheet, which scientists have long viewed as an Achilles' heel.

"The increasing mass loss that they're finding is really worrying, particularly looking at the West Antarctic, the area that's changing most rapidly and it's the area that we're most anxious about, because it's below sea level, " said Christine Dow, a glaciologist at the University of Waterloo in Canada who was not involved in the research.

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

"According to our analysis, there has been a step increase in ice losses from Antarctica during the past decade, and the continent is causing sea levels to rise faster today than at any time in the past 25 years".

To get around those problems in this study, more than 80 researchers from around the world collected data from about a dozen different satellite measurements dating to the early 1990s.

The study is the second of assessments planned every several years by a team of scientists working with NASA and the European Space Agency.

He adds that the new results have implications for predicting global sea level rise in the future. A tripling every decade, were it to continue, would reach that volume of sea level rise even sooner. But as the Post notes, "There is no proof the current rate of change in Antarctica will continue".

"I think we should be anxious".

Shepherd told Newsweek that there is a combination of factors that have led to the increased rate of ice loss in recent years, all of which are indicators of climate change.

It's possible, however, that Antarctica alone can add about half a foot to sea level rise by the end of the century, said Andrew Shepherd, the lead author of the study and a professor of earth observation at the University of Leeds in England. In East Antarctica the picture has been muddled as the ice sheet there gained mass in some years and lost mass in others.

More than 70 percent of the recent melt is in West Antarctica.

They also highlight the existential threat facing low-lying coastal cities and communities home to hundreds of millions of people.

Continuing high emissions could deliver massive sea level rise - but strong compliance with the Paris climate agreement, while unable to stop changes happening now, could help to control how much they worsen.

Or alternatively, he continued, Antarctica could drive faster changes, ones that "begin to exceed what we're going to be able to cope with".

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