Antarctica Loses Trillions of Tons of Ice Since 1992, Report Reveals

Experts monitoring the ice levels have revealed that Antarctica is losing 200 billion tonnes a year of ice.

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An global team of researchers, including scientists from NASA and ESA (European Space Agency), published their findings in the journal Nature Wednesday.

"The detailed record shows an acceleration, starting around 2002, " said Beata Csatho, one of the study authors and a glaciologist at the State University of NY at Buffalo, in an email.

So what accounts for the apparent three-fold speed up in Antarctica's melting in the last five years? And 40% of that loss happened in the last five years.

At the rate that Antarctica is melting, the sea level could rise by 15 centimeters or six inches by 2100 - enough to flood Brooklyn 20 times per year, according to Shepherd.

Ice mass loss is clearly speeding up, driven largely by what's going on in West Antarctica. It also means the ice cliffs at the snout of those glaciers are getting taller and more prone to collapse. Antarctica is, on balance, losing its ice sheets and raising the world's sea levels.

Shepherd told Newsweek that there is a combination of factors that have led to the increased rate of ice loss in recent years, all of which are indicators of climate change.

That's a lot of ice. Of the three, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is the largest potential contributor to sea level rise.

The latest study settles an old argument: the combined evidence suggests that East Antarctica is more or less stable, gaining if anything 5bn tonnes a year on average, perhaps because of greater snowfall. We suggest that Antarctic ice volume variations in response to the range of global temperature experienced over this period - up to 2-3 ̊C above preindustrial, which correspond to future scenarios with Carbon dioxide concentrations between 400 and 500 ppm - are instead driven mostly by retreat of marine ice margins, in agreement with the latest models.

On current trends, Antarctica could become the single largest source of sea level rise, ahead of runoff from the Greenland ice sheet and mountain glaciers, and the expansion of ocean water as it warms, the study found.

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"We can not count on East Antarctica to be the quiet player, and we start to observe change there in some sectors that have potential and they're vulnerable, " said Velicogna.

The research was done by taking data from satellites that have been flying over the Antarctic region for 25 years. In fact, if all of Antarctica melted, global sea levels would rise by more than 58 meters (190 feet) to cover major coastal metropolitans and create new shorelines.

Already floating, ice shelves breaking off into icebergs do not add to sea level.

"Actions can be taken now that will slow the rate of environmental change, increase the resilience of Antarctica, and reduce the risk that we commit to irreversible changes with widespread impact".

"Satellites have given us an fantastic, continent-wide picture of how Antarctica is changing", said Dr. Pippa Whitehouse, a member of the IMBIE team from Durham University, according to a University of Leeds press release.

The changes will not be steady, in any case, said Knut Christianson, an Antarctic researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle, by email. 'Things are happening. They are happening faster than we expected'. So we should expect "periods of stability interspersed with rapid retreat, " he said.

Lead author Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds told NPR that prior to 2012, Antarctica's ice losses had been contributing a "relatively small proportion" to global sea level rise.

We're nowhere near that point yet. Over the coming decades, rising sea levels from melting ice and the expansion of warming oceans will strain societies and economies worldwide.

This new knowledge will help us better predict sea level rise in the future. This week's issue of Nature features several other reports on Antarctica and its future.

They also highlight the existential threat facing low-lying coastal cities and communities home to hundreds of millions of people.

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