February 21, 2019

Antarctica's melt quickens, risks meters of sea level rise

17 January 2019, 07:37 | Dale Webster

From 1979 to 1990 Antarctica shed an average of 40 billion tonnes of ice mass annually

From 1979 to 1990 Antarctica shed an average of 40 billion tonnes of ice mass annually

According to a new study published Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Antarctica is melting more than six times faster than it did in the 1980s. Scientists say the ice sheet in the Antarctic is "highly sensitive" to changes in climate.

Their findings showed that between 1979 and 1990, Antarctica lost an average of 40 billion tons of ice every year.

From 1979 to 1989, Antarctic glaciers saw some 40 billion tons of ice melt each year.

The recent melting rate is 15 per cent higher than what a study found a year ago.

Antarctica's crucial ice sheet has been melting for the entire 39 year period, but this is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, said Eric Rignot, who led the UCV study.

"What this study does is characterize the growth and decay of the Antarctic ice sheet and sheds light on what is forcing it to change", explains Stephen Meyers of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the study's co-authors along with Richard Levy of New Zealand's GNS Science and Victoria University of Wellington. But this study finds a vast quarter of eastern Antarctica is now becoming a bigger player and "is a great concern as well".

The western edge of the famed iceberg A-68, calved from the Larsen C ice shelf, is seen from NASA's Operation IceBridge research aircraft, near the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula region, on October 31, 2017, above Antarctica.

"We know that sea levels were 20 to 30 metres higher during past intervals of peak warmth, and while it takes significant time to melt large volumes of ice, these snapshots from the past give us an idea of the possible magnitude of future sea level rise if we do nothing to mitigate climate warming".

The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education.

Accordign to a study the yearly loss of ice from Antartica has increased by an alarming rate of 280 per cent between 2001 and 2017.

"The traditional view from many decades ago is that nothing much is happening in East Antarctica", Rignot said, adding, "It's a little bit like wishful thinking".

"As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-metre sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries" with continued man-made global warming, he wrote in a statement.

The pacing of the most recent ice ages, for example, is attributable to changes in the shape of our planet's orbit around the sun as well as to cyclic changes in the tilt of the Earth on its axis and its "top-like" wobble on that axis, all of which combine to influence the distribution and intensity of solar radiation.

In September, NASA unveiled its new $1 billion satellite, ICESat-2, to give humanity a stronger, data-backed vision of exactly how fast Earth's ice is melting.

"What's saved us in the past is carbon dioxide levels have been low enough that sea ice has grown", Levy said. This massive body of ice flows out into the ocean through a complex array of partially submerged glaciers and thick floating expanses of ice called ice shelves. To prevent climate catastrophe, we urgently need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by switching to renewable, non-polluting fuels.

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