Published: Thu, January 17, 2019
Sci-tech | By April Francis

Antarctica is losing ice 6 times faster today than in 1980s

Antarctica is losing ice 6 times faster today than in 1980s

Warming ocean water will only speed up ice loss in the future, and experts say sea levels will continue to mount for centuries, no matter what human do now to rein in climate change.

The Antarctic lost 40 billion tons of melting ice to the ocean each year from 1979 to 1989.

"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.

If the results from the latest study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are correct, the additional ice melt could dramatically alter current projections for sea level rise.

"The places undergoing changes in Antarctica are not limited to just a couple places", Rignot told the Washington Post.

"This study adds to our knowledge of the history of the behaviour of Antarctica's ice sheets and is yet more proof that urgent action is needed on emissions". 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.

The outward ice flow is normal and natural, and it is typically offset by some 2 trillion tons of snowfall atop Antarctica each year, a process that on its own would leave Earth's sea level relatively unchanged.

People are being urged to play their part in saving the Antarctic as a new study paints an alarming picture of the threat global warming poses to the frozen continent.

However, Antarctica's ice sheet - composed of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet - is not a giant mass of stationary ice but rather a system with inputs and outputs of matter and energy.

For this study, Rignot and his collaborators conducted what he called the longest-ever assessment of remaining Antarctic ice mass.

Melting in West Antarctica and the Antarctica Peninsula account for about four-fifths of the ice loss. The glaciers themselves, as well as the ice shelves, can be as large as American states or entire countries. The most recent time was at the end of the last Ice Age when natural climate changes progressed quickly. The continent holds a majority of the planet's ice and if melted, would cause the average sea level to rise 188 feet (57.2 meters).

As a result of the increase, global sea levels rose by more than 1.4cm (half an inch) between 1979 and 2017.

"All of these data suggest we need to get cracking and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions". Last year's study, which took several teams' work into consideration, found little to no loss in East Antarctica recently and gains in the past.

The study looked at 176 different basins around Antarctica where ice drains into the ocean and found that the rate of melting is increasing, especially in areas where warm, salty water (known as circumpolar deep water, or CDW) intrudes on edges of the ice sheets, which "vigorously melts the ice shelves" by reducing the glaciers that act as stop gaps between the ice sheet and the ocean, the study said.

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