Antarctica is melting six times faster than it was in 1980s

16 January, 2019, 00:30 | Author: Tara Reeves
  • The Nansen ice shelf. Scientists say the ice sheet in the Antarctic is

New research warns that a warming world caused by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and coupled with periodic changes in the geometry of Earth's orbit could warm oceans, leading to a loss of sea ice (right) and sparking a dramatic retreat of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, and elevate sea levels worldwide. Fast flowing inland ice streams of the West Antarctic are buttressed by floating ice shelves, which - if diminished or lost - raise the possibility of a runaway flow of West Antarctica's marine ice.

Global sea levels have risen about 20 centimetres (8 inches) in the past century and many other studies have shown a faster thaw from Greenland to Antarctica, threatening coasts from Bangladesh to Florida and cities from London to Shanghai.

"As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-meter sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries", Rignot said. In addition to more-frequent droughts, heat waves, severe storms and other extreme weather that could come with a continually warming Earth, scientists already have predicted that seas could rise almost three feet globally by 2100 if the world does not sharply decrease its carbon output.

For the current study, researchers embarked on the longest-ever assessment of icemass in the Antarctic, across 18 geographic regions.

Data was derived from fairly high-resolution aerial photographs taken from a distance of about 350 metres via Nasa's Operation IceBridge; satellite radar interferometry from multiple space agencies; and the ongoing Landsat satellite imagery series, begun in the early 1970s.

"The Wilkes Land sector of East Antarctica has, overall, always been an important participant in the mass loss, even as far back as the 1980s, as our research has shown", said Rignot.

"This region is probably more sensitive to climate change than has traditionally been assumed, and that's important to know, because it holds even more ice than West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula together", he added.

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For now, the ice melt and corresponding sea-level rise remains at a manageable level.

In the short term, the warmer water simply results in more melt, more icebergs and modest sea level rise. The continental ice sheet is, by far, the largest single mass of ice on Earth - miles deep in places and containing more than 26 million cubic kilometers of ice.

That's what the new research says is happening.

When scientists talk about Antarctic melting, they're usually referring to West Antarctica, where giant coastal glaciers are shedding incredible amounts of water.

That study found the massive basin would start melting again, with a sustained temperature rise of just two degrees Celsius the cap called for in the landmark Paris climate deal to avert runaway global warming. The latest research shows East Antarctic melting deserves "closer attention", according to the PNAS report.

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.

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