Antarctic ice melt has tripled in five years

Hamish Pritchard shows a two-man British Antarctic Survey field camp on Alexander Island off the Antarctic Peninsula. In a study released Wednesday

A new study by an worldwide team of scientists has shown that more than three trillion tonnes of ice have melted in Antarctica since the year 1992.

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.

The Antarctic ice sheets are melting many times faster than previously thought, significantly increasing the rise of global sea levels in recent years, according to a new research by a group of USA and United Kingdom scientists.

Antarctica stores enough frozen water to raise global sea level by 58 metres, and knowing how much ice it is losing is key to understanding the impacts of climate change today and in the future. The water nibbles at the floating edges of ice sheets from below.

East Antarctica is losing ice at a relatively smaller rate of 31 tonnes per year since 2012.

"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.

Eric Rignot, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, added, "Measurements collected by radar satellites and Landsat over the years have documented glacier changes around Antarctica at an fantastic level of precision, so that we have now a very detailed and thorough understanding of the rapid changes in ice flow taking place in Antarctica and how they raise sea level worldwide".

As the ice sheet loses ice, its gravitational pull is reduced, so the local sea level near Antarctica is diminished.

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Ice losses from Antarctica have tripled since 2012, increasing global sea levels by 0.12 inch (3 millimeters) in that timeframe alone, according to a major new worldwide climate assessment funded by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). According to nine award-winning scientists if the ice keeps melting at the same rate the sea level will rise and all the coastal countries will be threatened by flooding.

"But where there is loss of sea ice, storm-generated ocean swells can easily reach the exposed ice shelf, causing the first few kilometres of its outer margin to flex".

The study, which was conducted over two years, applied methods similar to forensic science on ice shelves which had already calved.

Even under ordinary conditions, Antarctica's landscape is perpetually changing as icebergs calve, snow falls and ice melts on the surface, forming glacial sinkholes known as moulins.

"The trajectory that will play out over the next 50 years depends on choices made today", said the paper's lead author, Dr Steve Rintoul of the Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research and Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre in Hobart, Australia.

"We have long suspected that changes in Earth's climate will affect the polar ice sheets", said Professor Shepherd. There are large glaciers, pine island and Thwaites Glacier, plunging into the open ocean. These shelves contain about 10 percent - or 1.5 million square kilometers (nearly 600,000 square miles) - of Antarctica's ice.

If no one does anything to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and the planet continues to warm then a scenario would come when a quarter of the volume of the sea ice would probably disappear by 2070, fishes and penguins will die and the U.S. could see $1 trillion in damage.

Study leader Christine Dow, Canada research chair of Waterloo's Faculty of Environment, said the findings might shorten estimated timelines for ice shelf collapse and sea level rise.

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