Antarctica's Ice Melting Rate Has Increased by 240 Percent, Research Finds

Pablo Tucker
January 17, 2019

And Antarctica isn't the only contributor to sea level rise - a recent study found that our oceans are warming at a faster rate than expected due to climate change, and warmer waters mean rising seas.

By the years 2009 to 2017, the ice loss had increased more than six-fold, to 252 billion tonnes a year.

"This is, so to speak, only the tip of the iceberg", said Rignot. Previously, climate scientists thought that East Antarctica wasn't so vulnerable to net ice loss, but that may all be wishful thinking.

Richard Levy said that the study confirmed a connection between these astronomical changes and changes in the size and extent of the Antarctic ice sheet. "If we fail to achieve carbon dioxide emissions targets and Earth's average temperature warms more than 2 degrees Celsius, sea ice will diminish and we jump into a world that is more similar to that last experienced during the early to mid-Miocene", says Levy, referencing a geological epoch that ended about 14 million years ago when the Earth and its polar regions were much more temperate, with an atmosphere supercharged with carbon dioxide and global temperatures, on average, warmer by 3 to 4 degrees Celsius (7 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit).

The findings are the latest sign that the world could face catastrophic consequences if climate change continues unabated. The new study raises concerns that global warming could raise sea levels much higher, in addition to causing extreme weather events such as superstorms as well as frequent heat waves and droughts, The Washington Post reported.

Currently, Antarctica's sea ice is at the lowest January levels since detailed observations began in 1979, according to data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Maps show the projected impact of different levels of sea level rise on Miami, Florida. During this period, global sea levels rose by nearly 13 millimeters (half an inch) and might continue to rise at a higher rate than previously estimated.

Photo taken on December 28, 2017 shows a penguin standing on sea ice in Antarctica. The glaciers themselves, as well as the ice shelves, can be as large as American states or entire countries.

The imbalance between melting ice and replenishing snowfall means the continent is out of balance and thus increasing sea levels as the excess meltwater flows into the ocean.

This 2016 photo provided by NASA shows the Getz Ice Shelf. Between 1979 and 2017, Antarctic ice loss increased by a factor of six, causing sea levels to rise by half an inch.

That's what the new research says is happening.

When scientists talk about Antarctic melting, they're usually referring to West Antarctica, where giant coastal glaciers are shedding incredible amounts of water.

"What has become apparent through this work and other studies is that the Antarctic Ice Sheet isn't just sitting there". It is now losing about 159 gigatons of ice yearly, particularly due to the melting of the Pine Island glacier (which lost a trillion tons of ice since 1979) and the Thwaites Glacier (which lost 634 billion tons).

The study found East Antarctica, which contains most of the continent's ice, was responsible for more than 30 percent of the continent's contribution to sea level rise.

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