Antarctica Has Lost 3 Trillion Tonnes of Ice Since '92

14 Juin, 2018, 06:10 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Scientists believe Antarctic ice melt is causing sea levels to rise faster today than at any time in the past 25 years

"According to our analysis, there has been a step increase in ice losses from Antarctica during the past decade, and the continent is causing sea levels to rise faster today than at any time in the past 25 years".

"We now have an unequivocal picture of what's happening in Antarctica", said co-lead author Eric Rignot, a scientist at NASA's Jet propulsion Laboratory who has been tracking Earth's ice sheets for two decades.

The West Antarctic ice sheet has lost almost three trillion tonnes of ice during this span - with a large chunk of the numbers coming in the last few years, according to research.

But afterwards, that sped up remarkably, resulting in a three-fold increase from 2012 to 2017, during which the continent lost some 219 billion tonnes of ice every year, pushing the ocean up 0.6 mm annually. Meanwhile, in the Antarctic Peninsula, the annual rate of ice loss increased from around 7 billion tons from 1992 to 2012 to 36 billion tons from 2012 to 2017, largely due to collapsing ice shelves. That's an 146-billion-metric-ton leap.

"We depend upon the satellite measurements to not only tell us how the ice sheets respond but also to make these calculations to sea-level contribution", Shepherd said. "Thanks to the satellites our space agencies have launched, we can now track their ice losses and global sea level contribution with confidence".

"This is a concerning thing if you consider that ice shelves exist around 75 per cent of the periphery of Antarctica".

"The increasing mass loss that they're finding is really worrying, particularly looking at the West Antarctic, the area that's changing most rapidly and it's the area that we're most anxious about, because it's below sea level, " said Christine Dow, a glaciologist at the University of Waterloo in Canada who was not involved in the research.

West Antarctica is now bearing the brunt of this loss, as its glacial ice shelves have been melted from below by warming deep ocean water.

"We're watching these reports closely", said Michiel van den Broeke, professor of Polar Meteorology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, saying they were the guide for defending the Dutch coast.

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"Whilst there's still considerable uncertainty about East Antarctica mass balance, it is increasingly clear that ice loss from West Antarctica has accelerated", said Kate Hendry, a researcher at the University of Bristol, commenting on the findings.

"We are confident in our understanding of ice mass change in Antarctica and its impact on sea levels".

If all that ice melted, it would be enough to raise the world's sea levels by roughly 200 feet (60.96 metres). A tripling every decade, were it to continue, would reach that volume of sea level rise even sooner. But as the Post notes, "There is no proof the current rate of change in Antarctica will continue".

"I don't know if it's going to keep exactly tripling, but I think it has a lot of potential to keep significantly increasing, " said Velicogna.

"The fate of Antarctica, the fate of Greenland, is the fate of Miami", she said.

Much of the melt-off is coming from the Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers, victims of climate change.

There have been many other estimates of how much ice has melted in Antarctica.

That's because as Antarctica's mass shrinks, the ice sheet's gravitational pull on the ocean relaxes somewhat, and the seas travel back across the globe to pile up far away - with USA coasts being one prime destination. And many of those papers showed different results. "This has to be a concern for the governments we trust to protect our coastal cities and communities", said Shephard.

Rising sea levels can have a risky impact on coastal habitats and communities as flooding increases along with higher tides and stronger storm surges. "Put simply if we can not collectively tackle climate change, then it's unlikely we will maintain Antarctica as a place for peace, nature and science".

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