April 22, 2019

Ice from Antarctica melting at a rapid pace

17 January 2019, 07:39 | Edward Lowe

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

The sectors losing the most ice are adjacent to warm ocean water.

Ice losses from the frozen continent surged to a net 252 billion tonnes a year in the period 2009-17 from an average 40 billion tonnes from 1979-90, according to the study in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Now, it turns out that variations in the axial tilt - what scientists call "obliquity" - of the planet have significant implications for the rise and fall of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, the miles-deep blanket of ice that locks up huge volumes of water that, if melted, would dramatically elevate sea level and alter the world's coastlines.

"As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-meter sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries", Rignot wrote in a statement accompanying his study and obtained by Reuters.

Glaciologists from the University of California, Irvine, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Netherlands' Utrecht University additionally found that the accelerated melting caused global sea levels to rise more than half an inch during that time.

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The study said that some 15 million years ago, when Earth's atmosphere was supercharged with carbon dioxide, oceans warmed and sea ice around Antarctica disappeared.

He said the big difference is that his satellite-based study found East Antarctica, which used to be considered stable, is losing 56 billion tons (51 billion metric tons) of ice a year.

Climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University, told Science magazine it "changes the ball game for sea level rise in this century".

Antarctica contains 90% of the world's glacier ice - enough ice to raise world sea level by over 60 meters (almost 200 feet) if it were all to melt. A study from past year found little to no loss of ice from East Antarctica, notes the Associated Press. In fact, the rate of ice loss for the period between 2001 and 2017 was 280 percent higher than it was between 1979 and 2001.

"The places undergoing changes in Antarctica are not limited to just a couple places", Rignot said.

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That kind of sea-level rise would result in the inundation of island communities around the globe, devastating wildlife habitats and threatening drinking-water supplies.

"This region is probably more sensitive to climate [change] than has traditionally been assumed, and that's important to know, because it holds even more ice than West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula together", said Rignot, who's also a senior project scientist at NASA JPL.

"Sea ice creates a barrier between the ocean and the ice", said Levy.

"In order for us to really ensure that we don't lose too much ice, we really need to work hard at getting those emissions - at least keeping them at what they are today but even trying to get them lower than they are today, we certainly can't let them get higher because all the evidence suggests that's just not good for the ice sheets". The glaciers themselves, as well as the ice shelves, can be as large as American states or entire countries.

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