Ice loss from Antarctica has risen sixfold since 1970s - research

Pat Wise
January 16, 2019

East Antarctica's melting "increases the risk of multiple metre sea level rise over the next century or so", Rignot said.

The most striking finding in Monday's study is the assertion that East Antarctica, which contains by far the continent's most ice - a vast sheet capable of almost 170 feet of potential sea-level rise - is also experiencing serious melting. Fast flowing inland ice streams of the West Antarctic are buttressed by floating ice shelves, which - if diminished or lost - raise the possibility of a runaway flow of West Antarctica's marine ice.

In the study, glaciologists from NASA'S Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Netherlands' Utrecht University, and the University of California, Irvine, found that this accelerated melting caused global sea levels to rise above half an inch over the past 40 years, said a University of California, Irvine press release.

"As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-metre sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries", study lead Eric Rignot, chair of Earth system science at the University of California, said.

Researchers discovered that from 1979 to 1990, Antarctica shed an average of 40 billion tons of ice mass annually. A study published last summer found that two critical East Antarctic outlet glaciers, Totten and Moscow University glacier, are shedding some 18 billion tons of ice a year.

Global warming is melting ice in Antarctica faster than ever before.

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"The Wilkes Land sector of East Antarctica has, overall, always been an important participant in the mass loss, even as far back as the 1980s, as our research has shown", said Rignot.

If the rest of the glacier ice on Earth were to melt - a measly 25 feet on top of Antarctica's drastic total - every coastal city on the planet would flood.

By far, the most ice in Antarctica is concentrated in the east, where there is enough sea ice to drove 170 feet of sea level rise, compared to about 17 feet in the entire West Antarctic ice sheet. But across the Transantarctic mountains to the east, there's a much larger mantle of ice that's generally thought to be keeping its chill. Researchers believe the accelerated melt could cause sea levels to rise at a quicker rate than predicted in coming years.

Traditionally the western side of Antarctica has been the biggest source of anxiety among scientists.

An alarming new study found that Antarctica is losing six times more ice each year than it was 40 years ago. That means the region is losing six times as much ice as it was four decades ago, an unprecedented pace in the era of modern measurements. The latest research shows East Antarctic melting deserves "closer attention", according to the PNAS report. A critical finding suggests that in a world warmed by a growing amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a loss of sea ice would likely amplify the cyclic effects of the Earth's obliquity on the ice sheet as ocean waters warm.

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