Antarctica ice loss trippled in five years, new study reveals

Sea ice melting off the shores of islands in Antarctica. David Schultz  Mint Images  ZUMA Wire

Satellite surveys showed that, prior to 2012, Antarctica lost ice at a steady annual rate of 76 billion tons and contributed 0.2 millimeters per year to sea level rise.

Recent work by Rob DeConto, the 2016 victor of the Tinker prize and professor of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, includes findings in a 2016 paper also in Nature that highlights the potential for Antarctica to contribute much more sea level rise to the world's oceans than previously considered. Globally sea levels are rising by about 3mm a year.

The study - known as the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-Comparison Exercise - is the compilation of recent measurements of Antarctic ice loss, using satellite imagery to assess the height and weight of the ice, as well as the speed that it is moving towards the water. In the Antarctic Peninsula, the collapse of the Larsen B and Wilkins ice shelves in the 2000s has had similar consequences: an abrupt acceleration in the rate local glaciers drain into the ocean.

Between 60 and 90 per cent of the world's fresh water is frozen in the ice sheets of Antarctica, a continent roughly the size of the USA and Mexico combined.

The melting of Antarctica is accelerating at an alarming rate, with about 3 trillion tons of ice disappearing since 1992, an global team of ice experts said in a new study.

In West Antarctica the average rate of melting has increased from 53 ± 29 to 159 ± 26 billion tons per year, on the Antarctic Peninsula from 7 ± 13 to 33 ± 16 billion tons per year. This huge amount of thawing has led to a rise of nearly a centimeter in sea levels.

A trillion-tonne iceberg, one of the biggest on record and twice the size of the ACT, snapped off the Larsen C West Antarctic ice shelf in July previous year.

The maps of the sea floor can now be fed into a computer model to work to produce more accurate simulations for future change and the glacier's contribution to sea-level rise.

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Washington D.C. [USA]: Antarctica's ice loss has tripled since 2012, according to a study. The latter is increasingly being viewed as posing a potential planetary emergency, because of its enormous size and its role as a gateway that could allow the ocean to someday access the entirety of West Antarctica, turning the marine-based ice sheet into a new sea. Ocean acidification would harm the shells of some sea creatures and the number of invasive species would increase tenfold.

If no one does anything to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and the planet continues to warm then a scenario would come when a quarter of the volume of the sea ice would probably disappear by 2070, fishes and penguins will die and the United States could see $1 trillion in damage. The first in which urgent action on greenhouse gas emissions and environmental protection is taken in the next few years, the second if emissions continue to rise unabated and the Antarctic is exploited for its natural resources.

Scientists have been closely monitoring the changing Antarctica through the satellite imaging for several decades.

An ice wall in East Antarctica.

Scientists have previously raised fears about a scenario in which ice loss from Antarctica takes on a rate of explosive growth. The upper end of this range would imply that most of the ice on the planet melted, enough to raise sea levels by 63 meters.

"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.

"What happened roughly 10,000 years ago might not dictate where we're going in our carbon dioxide-enhanced world, where the oceans are rapidly warming in the Polar Regions", said Scherer.

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