Antarctic Ice Sheet is Melting Three Times as Fast as Before

17 June, 2018, 05:55 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • Hamish Pritchard summer clouds swirl around the Staccato Peaks of Alexander Island off the Antarctic Peninsula. In a study released Wednesday

In a study released Wednesday, June 13, 2018, an global team of ice experts said the melting of Antarctica is accelerating at an alarming rate, with about 3 trillion tons of ice disappearing since 1992.

The Antarctic Ice Sheet covers an area of about 14 million square kilometres; by comparison, the area of Australia is about 7.7 million square kilometres, and that of the U.S. is about 9.8 million square kilometres.

The study appears in the journal Nature. The lead author was Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. Scientists not involved with the study lauded its methodology.

Photo taken on December 9, 2017 shows a penguin at Inexpressible Island in Terra Nova Bay of the Ross Sea in Antarctica. It alone is responsible for between 5-10% of global sea-level rise.

As warmer salt water erodes channels into the ice that attaches glaciers to stable land, it also generates massive vertical fractures splitting glaciers from above and below. Since 1992, it lost 3 trillion tons of ice, losing some of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and Antarctic Peninsula.

Pine Island is now losing about 45 billion tons per year, and Thwaites is losing 50 billion.

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These glaciers have the potential to raise sea levels by more than a meter (more than three feet) and are now widely considered to be unstable.

Overall, world sea levels have risen about 20 cm in the past century.

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As the ice sheet loses ice, its gravitational pull is reduced, so the local sea level near Antarctica is diminished.

"The Antarctic Ice Sheet is an important indicator of climate change and driver of sea-level rise", the IMBIE team wrote in their Nature paper. "They allow us to test whether our models can reproduce present-day change and give us more confidence in our projections of future ice loss".

"Considering sea level rise, for example, the future rise could be a little smaller or a little larger, or a lot larger - there is a "long tail" on the "bad" side".

The researchers conclude, "Despite the challenges, actions can be taken now that will slow the rate of environmental change, increase the resilience of Antarctica, and reduce the risk of out-of-control consequences".

"Although breakup of the ice shelves does not contribute directly to sea-level rise - since ice shelves, like sea ice, are already floating - we now know that these breakups have implications for the inland ice", said Helen Fricker, a co-author of the review.

The changes will not be steady, in any case, said Knut Christianson, an Antarctic researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle, by email. "They show no indication of being exposed to cosmic rays", said Marc Caffee, a co-author of the paper and professor of physics at Purdue University in the United States. So we should expect "periods of stability interspersed with rapid retreat", he said. Talking about the rise in sea levels, Dr. Whitehouse adds, "And that is not only going to impact people who live close to the coast but actually when we have storms - the repeat time of major storms and flooding events is going to be exacerbated".

"The greatest threat from West Antarctic collapse would be northern hemisphere sites in general", Peltier said.

Antarctica is one of the world's fastest-warming regions.

"The kinds of changes that we see today, if they were not to increase much more. then maybe we're talking about something that is manageable for coastal stakeholders", said DeConto.

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