Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Antarctic ice melting faster than previously thought

Antarctic thaw quickens trillions of tonnes of ice raise sea levels Antarctic ice melting faster than previously thought
Elijah Vega | 15 June, 2018, 00:24

Between 1992 and 2017 we have observed a threefold increase in the rate of ice loss from West Antarctica, from 53 to 159 billion tonnes a year.

The frozen continent lost nearly 3 trillion tons of ice between 1992 and 2017, the 84 scientists said in what they called the most complete overview of Antarctic ice to date.

Scientists have acknowledged that these sad results surpassed their expectations.

"I think we should be anxious. Things are happening faster than we expected", Isabella Velicogna of the University of California and one of the report's authors said.

While the western Antarctica ice sheet has been steadily melting, there has been evidence that East Antarctica itself was stable, or even growing. Then the melting accelerated significantly, and since 2012 the rate has jumped to more than 241 billion tons a year - adding 0.6 mm per year to sea level rise.

An additional increase in ice losses came from the smaller glaciers of the Antarctic Peninsula, which are also melting rapidly but contain less sea level rise potential.

Overall, though, the continent is losing the mass of its ice, and if the world continues to warm, this loss can only accelerate.

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In a separate analysis piece in Nature today, climate scientist and Antarctic policy expert Professor Rob DeConto warned that Antarctica may contribute more to sea-level rise than previously thought.

Forces "that are driving these changes are not going to get any better in a warming climate", said University of Colorado ice scientist Waleed Abdalati, a former NASA chief scientist who wasn't part of the study team.

This in turn will drive big changes in the marine ecosystems of the Antarctic and for the first time permit invasive pests to colonise what was once a pristine, unspoiled landscape. To put that into perspective, the massive iceberg that broke off from Antarctica's Larsen C ice shelf in July 2017 - one of the largest icebergs in recorded history - weighed over 1 trillion tons, and was roughly the size of the state of Delaware. That loss made global oceans rise about three-tenths of an inch, or 7.6 millimeters.

East Antarctica, which makes up two-thirds of the continent, is a remote region of an already remote location, where data is scarcer because there are fewer measurement stations, Koppes said. These scenarios are more like data-driven conversation starters according to the authors, all who have won the Tinker-Muse Prize for Science and Policy in Antarctica game out what could happen if the world does nothing - or if policy-makers take significant action in the next 10 years to stop the destruction. The water nibbles at the floating edges of ice sheets from below.

"The ice sheet is now losing three times as much ice", Shepherd told NPR, adding that the annual sea level rise attributed to Antarctica has similarly tripled ― from 0.2 mm to 0.6 mm. "But remember for the northern hemisphere, for North America, the fact that the location in West Antarctica is where the action is amplifies that rate of sea level rise by up to an about additional 25 percent in a city like Boston or NY". "This has to be a concern for the governments we trust to protect our coastal cities and communities", said Shephard. It also means the ice cliffs at the snout of those glaciers are getting taller and more prone to collapse. "Thanks to the satellites our space agencies have launched, we can now track their ice losses and global sea level contribution with confidence".

There are "many, many communities where sea level at high tide is really reaching the brim and spilling into the streets more often that it did just decades ago", he said.

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