Melting of Antarctica is speeding up, worrying scientists

Scientists lay out how to save a melting Antarctica -- and the grim future if we don't

- It is estimated that there is enough water locked up in Antarctica's ice sheet to raise global sea levels by more than 50 meters (more than 164 feet).

The study is part of a special collection of articles on Antarctica that includes Australian research on the role of the Southern Ocean in sea-level rise.

"That the rate of ice loss is now three times faster than it was prior to 2012, when we last looked", Andrew Shepherd, a cryosphere scientist at the University of Leeds who led the motley crew of authors, told Earther.

"Some of the estimates covered different proportions of the ice sheets, some of them covered different time periods, and all of them used different methods and so it became hard for people who are not specialists to try to pick them apart", says Shepherd.

Three trillion tonnes of ice is an near impossible thing to wrap your head around. If the rate does not increase, that would imply that sea level would rise by an average of 10 inches by 2100. The Antarctic Peninsula - the portion of the continent that reaches out for the southern tip of South America - has seen an increase from an average of 7 billion tonnes per year, up to 33 billion tonnes per year in that same time period. The tally has since jumped to 0.6mm a year. Getting a handle on what glaciers are melting fastest also has a bearing on what areas are likely to flood first.

Professor Tim Naish from the Antarctic Research Centre at Victoria University said the good news is there was still time to prevent major meltdown of the icesheets, but that timeframe is short.

The high seas are getting even higher, and all that water is largely coming from a colossal Antarctic ice melt that has gotten much worse in recent years. Geological evidence indicates that some marine-based portions of the East and West Antarctic Ice Sheets retreated during parts of the Pliocene, but it remains uncertain whether ice grounded above sea level also experienced retreat.

The data showed that between 2012 and 2017 the rate of loss of ice tripled in comparison to the loss rate before the year 2012.

Researchers must extrapolate a smaller amount of data over an area the size of the United States, which can make the analysis less precise.

"There are no fish where the ice is grounded on the sea floor", Scherer said, noting that, "radiocarbon (carbon-14) in sediments 200 kilometers upstream tells us that the sea had been much farther back before". "And we find that by combining all of the available measurements we can iron out the problems that individual techniques have". The East Antarctica ice sheet is thought to have remained relatively stable over the past 25 years.

Scientists have long believed the last glacial period, famously known as the Ice Age, ended with a period of continued warming which resulted in the shrinking of ice sheets and an increase in sea levels for thousands of years.

"Now when we look again, we can see actually that the signal is very different to what we've seen before", Shepherd said.

Direct observation from satellites upended that view. Budgets proposed by the Trump administration have called for a reduction in some Earth-observation programs.

The total is equivalent to over 2 quadrillion gallons of water added to the world's oceans, making Antarctica's melting ice sheets one of the largest contributors to rising sea levels.

"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. In the Antarctic Peninsula, the collapse of the Larsen B and Wilkins ice shelves in the 2000s has had similar consequences: an abrupt acceleration in the rate local glaciers drain into the ocean.

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