Ice loss in Antarctica is increasingly contributing to global sea level rise
Ice loss in Antarctica is increasingly contributing to global sea level rise
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16 June, 2018, 11:03
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.
The assessment is an analysis of 24 different satellite-based measurements of ice loss on the continent, making it one of the most comprehensive studies of Antarctic melting to date. This has led to an increase in sea levels of roughly three-tenths of an inch, which doesn't seem like much.
The annual sea level rise that's attributed to Antarctica has tripled, from 0.2mm to 0.6mm, or from less than a tenth of an inch to almost a quarter of an inch, he says.
Overall, scientists say the melting ice in Antarctica is responsible for about one-third of all sea-level rise around the world. Just two glaciers in this sheet, Thwaites and Pine Island, now contribute about half of Antartica's annual ice mass loss, according to the study's authors.
"The data from these spacecraft show us not only that a problem exists but that it is growing in severity with each passing year", explains NASA researcher Isabella Velicogna from the University of California, Irvine. That's an 146-billion-metric-ton leap.
If the volcanoes are active, they could erupt at any moment, melting vast amounts of ice and contributing to the already worrisome rising sea levels endangering large swathes of coastal populations around the globe.
Reduced sea ice coverage since the late 1980s has led to increased exposure of ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula to ocean swells, causing them to flex and break.
Shepherd and his team ran similar calculations five years ago, using 20 years of data, but were unable to say much except that Antarctica seemed to be losing mass at a steady rate.
That said, it is worth noting the researchers have cautioned the processes that helped the ice sheet recover back in the day might not work in the present-day scenario of rapid melting due to human activity. 'There are no other plausible signals to be driving this other than climate change'.
That has made global oceans rise around 7.6 millimetres. But what concerns scientists is the balance of how much snow and ice accumulates in a given year versus the amount that is lost.
"The increasing mass loss that they're finding is really worrying, particularly looking at the West Antarctic, the area that's changing most rapidly, and it's the area that we're most anxious about, because it's below sea level, " said Christine Dow, a glaciologist at the University of Waterloo in Canada who was not involved in the research.
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.
"We depend upon the satellite measurements to not only tell us how the ice sheets respond but also to make these calculations to sea-level contribution", Shepherd said.
The ice sheet mass balance inter-comparison exercise (IMBIE) is an worldwide effort: a team of 84 polar scientists from 44 organisations, including both of us, working together to provide a single, global record of ice loss from Earth's polar ice sheets.
Shepherd said: "We have long suspected that changes in Earth's climate will affect the polar ice sheets".
More than 70% of the recent melt is in West Antarctica.
The report said the most dramatic increase has been fixed in 2007-2012 when Antarctica lost 160 billion tonnes of ice each year.
"The detailed record shows an acceleration, starting around 2002", said Beata Csatho, a co-author of the study, and a glaciologist at the University at Buffalo. The water nibbles at the floating edges of ice sheets from below.
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