Antarctica's ice sheet is melting 3 times faster than before

Ismael LynchJun 17, 2018

"The rate of melting of the Antarctic sheets of ice has accelerated threefold in the last five years", - stated in the message.

The Antarctic ice sheet is melting at a faster rate than at any previously recorded time, according to a comprehensive new study.

Researchers led by Northern Illinois University geology professor Reed Scherer, Jonathan Kingslake from Columbia University in the United States and Torsten Albrecht of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany found that the ice sheet below sea level partially melted between roughly 14,500 and 9,000 years ago and shrunk to a size even smaller than today, but it did not collapse.

But that's because those reports are about sea ice, not ice sheets. However since then there has been a sharp increase, resulting in the loss of 219bn tonnes of ice per year - a 0.6mm per year sea-level contribution.

Isabella Velicogna, another co-author of the study said,"I think we should be anxious".

Eric Rignot, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, added, "Measurements collected by radar satellites and Landsat over the years have documented glacier changes around Antarctica at an incredible level of precision, so that we have now a very detailed and thorough understanding of the rapid changes in ice flow taking place in Antarctica and how they raise sea level worldwide".

It is the most complete picture of Antarctic ice sheet change to date - 84 scientists from 44 worldwide organisations combined 24 satellite surveys to produce the assessment.

Louisa Casson, of Greenpeace UK's Protect the Antarctic campaign, said: "Governments can take a historic step forward in October this year if they decide to create an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary, protecting 1.8 million square kilometres in what would be the largest protected area on Earth". The continent is melting so fast, that it will contribute to six inches ( 15 centimetres) to sea level rise by 2100. That is pushing up global sea levels by 0.6mm annually, a three-fold increase since the last assessment in 2012. According to scientists, this could be the beginning of the formation of a new ocean.

The ice sheets of Antarctica hold the vast majority of the planet's fresh water.

Shepherd brushed off skeptics who claim that climate change isn't the driving factor behind this massive melting of the ice sheet.

"If we aren't already alert to the dangers posed by climate change, this should be an enormous wake-up call", he added.

The satellite missions providing data for this study are NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat); the joint NASA/German Aerospace Center Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE); ESA's first and second European Remote Sensing satellites, Envisat and CryoSat-2; the European Union's Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 missions; the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Advanced Land Observatory System; the Canadian Space Agency's RADARSAT-1 and RADARSAT-2 satellites; the Italian Space Agency's COSMO-SkyMed satellites; and the German Aerospace Center's TerraSAR-X satellite.

Ice shelves are thick plates of ice, up to several hundred metres thick and fed by tributary glaciers.

Professor Siegert is a co-author of the new study in the journal Nature at the imperial College London.

According to research scientists, the melting of the raised world sea levels by nearly a centimeter from the beginning of 1990-ies that could ultimately represent a danger to coastlines from the Pacific Islands to Florida. "There are many more vulnerable ice shelves in the Antarctic that, if they break up, will accelerate the processes of sea level rise".

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