Antarctica lost an unprecedented amount of ice in the last five years

Antarctica lost an unprecedented amount of ice in the last five years

"If this kind of thing happens more in the future we have to be aware of that".

Per the team's calculations, a high emissions scenario - in which carbon emissions rise unabated and environmental protections in Antarctica are not implemented - global air temperature would rise almost 3.5°C above 1850 levels by 2070, with sea level rise averaging somewhere between 10-15 mm every year.

But that has changed.

They discovered that Antarctica is now losing ice about three times faster than it did until 2012, climbing to a rate of more than 241 billion tons (219 billion metric tons) per year.

The researchers attribute the increased losses in West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsular to changes in regional floating-ice shelves, which can provide a buffer to continental-ice sheets.

"I think we should be anxious".

A group of 80 Antarctic experts said that in the two decades prior to 2012, the continent lost about 76 billion tons of ice annually, which caused about 0.2 millimeters of sea-level rise a year.

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.

Antarctica holds enough ice to increase sea levels 58 meters, the researchers said. It is known to be losing ice rapidly because it is being melted from below by warm ocean waters, a process that is rendering its largest glaciers unstable. That's "an important distinction, because it means it's insulated from changes in the ocean's temperature".

One of those studies, co-authored by physical oceanographer and climate scientist Steve Rintoul at Australia's CSIRO contemplates a grim choose-your-own-adventure style environmental dilemma - contrasting what Antarctica is projected to look like in the year 2070 if today's high greenhouse emissions remain unchanged, versus the preferable trajectory if climate action reins in carbon pollution.

"Some of the estimates covered different proportions of the ice sheets, some of them covered different time periods, and all of them used different methods and so it became hard for people who are not specialists to try to pick them apart", says Shepherd.

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. "We believe that we've captured all of the different satellite records that exist on the planet", he says.

It uses combined satellite data to measure the Antarctic ice sheet's changing flow and volume.

Scientists have previously raised fears about a scenario in which ice loss from Antarctica takes on a rate of explosive growth. These "tell us about changes in the earth's gravitational attraction over time and that can be related to the mass of the ice sheets overall", Shepherd says, "and they are really powerful measurements because they can add up everything across Antarctica".

Csatho noted that comparing the first and last five year periods in the record reveals an even steeper acceleration.

In total, an estimated 3 trillion tons of ice vanished from Antarctica during the 25-year survey period.

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.

This new data creates a much starker picture of the future than previous estimates. "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".

That could be a big deal, he says, "for anybody who lives, works and governs a coastal region".

The melt rate has tripled in the past decade, the study concluded.

A single millimeter of global sea level rise is equivalent to 360 billion tonnes of melted ice, or an imaginary big ice cube with sides about seven kilometers (4.35 miles) long.

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