Antarctic ice melting faster

Antarctic ice melting faster

Up to now, scientists have struggled in determining whether Antarctica has accumulated more mass through snowfall than it loses in meltwater run-off and ice flows into the ocean.

As shown in the video above, these changes are not uniform over the entire Antarctic ice sheet. If all of the ice in Antarctica melted, global sea levels would rise by more than 190 feet. Their results - known formally as the "Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise" (IMBIE) - were published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The melting is happening so fast that it could cause sea levels to rise 6 inches by the end of the century, the study projects. "Thanks to the satellites our space agencies have launched, we can now track their ice losses and global sea level contribution with confidence".

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.

Two of these glaciers - Pine Island and Thwaites - have accelerated and are today seen as unstable.

The frozen continent lost nearly 3 trillion tons of ice between 1992 and 2017, the 84 scientists said in what they called the most complete overview of Antarctic ice to date. Prior to 2012 the continent was losing ice at a rate of around 76 billion tonnes per year.

Oceans are now rising by 3.4mm (0.13 inches) per year. Greenland lost an estimated 1 trillion tonnes of ice between 2011 and 2014. It also means the ice cliffs at the snout of those glaciers are getting taller and more prone to collapse.

The study also helps clear up some uncertainty that was linked to regional differences in Antarctica.

East Antarctica, which is home to the South Pole, has seen considerably less melting because most of its ice is above sea level. In East Antarctica the picture has been muddled as the ice sheet there gained mass in some years and lost mass in others.

East Antarctica has sometimes been a focus of attention for people who deny the science of global warming. These scenarios are more like data-driven conversation starters according to the authors, all who have won the Tinker-Muse Prize for Science and Policy in Antarctica game out what could happen if the world does nothing - or if policy-makers take significant action in the next 10 years to stop the destruction.

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.

There's an very bad lot on the line - pretty much everything, in fact - but Rintoul says the low emissions future is ours for the taking, if only we want it badly enough. "And we find that by combining all of the available measurements we can iron out the problems that individual techniques have".

The researchers concluded that the changes in East Antarctica were not almost enough to make up for the rapid loss seen in West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula. The latter is increasingly being viewed as posing a potential planetary emergency, because of its enormous size and its role as a gateway that could allow the ocean to someday access the entirety of West Antarctica, turning the marine-based ice sheet into a new sea.

An accelerating thaw of Antarctica has pushed up world sea levels by nearly a centimeter since the early 1990s in a risk for coasts from Pacific islands to Florida, an global team of scientists said on Thursday. "According to our analysis, there has been a steep 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", Andrew Shephard, lead author of the study and a professor at the University of Leeds, said in a statement.

Advancements in Earth-observing satellites have enabled researchers to better understand the polar regions.

"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".

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