The Changing Antarctica Finally Revealed After Decades Of Satellite Monitoring

17 June, 2018, 10:39 | Author: Tara Reeves
  • Sea ice melting off the shores of islands in Antarctica. David Schultz  Mint Images  ZUMA Wire

A new climate assessment called the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE) found a startling rise in sea level.

"The detailed record shows an acceleration, starting around 2002", said Beata Csatho, one of the study authors and a glaciologist at the State University of NY at Buffalo, in an email. The water nibbles at the floating edges of existing ice sheets from below which causes them to melt a lot faster than normal. This rate increased when almost 241 billion tonnes of ice was lost from 2011 till 2017, according to a study in the journal Nature. This increases the rate of mass loss from the Antarctic Ice Sheet and therefore the rate of sea level rise.

Each of these plays an important environmental role: the ice sheet holds enormous freshwater reserves, the ice shelves feed freshwater into the ocean, and the sea ice is more reflective of sunlight than the water it floats in, which reduces the amount of heat the planet absorbs.

DeConto said, "Emerging science is pointing to more extreme worst-case scenarios with regards to sea level rise from Antarctica, 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".

At the northern tip of the continent, ice-shelf collapse at the Antarctic Peninsula has driven an increase of 27.6 billion tons (25 billion metric tons) in ice loss per year since the early 2000s.

Choices made in the next decade will have long-term consequences for Antarctica and the globe, according to research published today in Nature.

The researchers, including those from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, reviewed decades of satellite measurements to reveal how and why Antarctica's glaciers, ice shelves, and sea ice are changing.

If the land-based East Antarctic Ice Sheet was stable during the Pliocene, as Shakun and colleagues suggest, the Pliocene total could have been at most 30 meters.

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

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

Antarctica's glaciers carry ice from the interior of the continent to the ocean.

"We can not count on East Antarctica to be the quiet player, and we start to observe change there in some sectors that have potential and they're vulnerable", said Velicogna.

The cracks suggested the ice had been rapidly stretched and compressed, evidence of periods of retreat and regrowth.

"The next piece of the puzzle is to understand the processes driving this change".

"People should be concerned that Antarctica is clearly feeling the effects of climate change and it's responding to changes in ocean temperature", said lead author Andrew Shepherd, a glaciologist at the University of Leeds in England. "But remember for the northern hemisphere, for North America, the fact that the location in West Antarctica is where the action is amplifies that rate of sea level rise by up to an about additional 25 percent in a city like Boston or NY". This week's issue of Nature features several other reports on Antarctica and its future. However, since then there has been a sharp, threefold increase.

"What happened roughly 10,000 years ago might not dictate where we're going in our carbon dioxide-enhanced world, in which the oceans are rapidly warming in the polar regions", Scherer said.

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