Trillions of tons of melting ice in Antarctica raising sea levels

Hamish Pritchard summer clouds swirl around the Staccato Peaks of Alexander Island off the Antarctic Peninsula. In a study released Wednesday

According to the experts, the accelerated rate of ice loss has been caused by a combination of glacier speedup in West Antarctica and at the Antarctic Peninsula, and reduced growth of the ice sheet in East Antarctica.

"Even though Antarctica is far from most human civilization, its ice sheet is losing mass to the ocean, and is an increasing contribution to sea-level rise, which will have large impacts on coastlines all around all the world", said Helen Amanda Fricker, a glaciologist at Scripps.

The satellites measure the height of the ice sheets and the speed at which they move towards the sea, which allows scientists to deduce the total amount of ice from that data.

"The contribution of the Antarctic Ice Sheet is now the greatest source of uncertainty in projections of global mean sea level rise", Dr Bennetts said. Antarctica is, on balance, losing its ice sheets and raising the world's sea levels.

Benjamin Smith, senior principal investigator at the University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory, said climate scientists are getting a better handle on crucial questions relating to the impact of Antarctic melting, thanks to more advanced satellites. But there are so many different papers that it's hard to know which number to use, he said.

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

The study was conducted by a group of researchers as part of the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise, or IMBIE, and published today in the journal Nature.

The scientists used satellite data that relied on three different methods, measuring its volume, its flow over the landscape and its gravitational attraction. It shows that before 2012, the Antarctic lost ice at a steady rate of 76bn tonnes per year - a 0.2mm per year contribution to sea-level rise. The rapid increase in Antarctic ice loss and consequent sea level rise we have measured over the past 25 years are a clear indicator of climate change.

"We've all been caught by surprise by the pace of which Antarctic ice loss has increased", Shepherd said. Antarctica, the planet's largest ice sheet, lost 219 billion tons of ice annually from 2012 through 2017 - a number that rose from only 73 billion in 2008.

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"We are learning that ice shelves are more vulnerable to rising ocean and air temperatures than we thought", said Dow.

The next step, he added, will be to perform the same analysis for Greenland, to see where these northern ice reserves now stand.

Another study in Nature on Wednesday found that East Antarctic ice sheet didn't retreat significantly 2 million to 5 million years ago when heat-trapping carbon dioxide levels were similar to what they are now.

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 US is about 9.8 million square kilometres.

An additional increase in ice losses came from the smaller glaciers of the Antarctic Peninsula, which are also melting rapidly but contain less sea level rise potential.

More than 70 percent of the recent melt is in West Antarctica.

"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.

They also said governments should take note.

Rising sea levels pose a major threat to ecosystems, coastal areas and climate as a whole.

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