Antarctic ice sheets are melting faster than ever, study

A report released recently shows that the world’s ice sheets are melting faster than ever previously recorded, losing about 500 cubic kilometers of ice per year.

Scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany conducted research using mapping technology and the European Space Agency’s CryoStat-2 satellite. The research team measured over 200 million elevation data points in Antarctica to examine the loss of ice mass over the past few years.

“Combined, the two ice sheets are thinning at a rate of 500 cubic kilometres per year,” said Dr. Angelika Humbert, glaciologist and one of the authors of the study, in a press release. “That is the highest speed observed since altimetry satellite records began about 20 years ago.”

“When we compare the current data with those from the ICESat satellite from the year 2009, the volume loss in Greenland has doubled since then,” Humbert said. “The loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has in the same time span increased by a factor of three.”

A similar study was released by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research earlier this month. Scientists found that ice discharge from Antarctica could raise the global sea level up to 37 centimeters by the end of the century.

The study said that while Antarctica “currently contributes less than 10 percent to global sea level rise,” the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are expected to contribute to future long-term sea level rise. “The marine ice sheets in West Antarctica alone have the potential to elevate sea level by several meters – over several centuries.”

“If greenhouse gases continue to rise as before, ice discharge from Antarctica could raise the global ocean by an additional 1 to 37 centimeters in this century already,” said Anders Levermann, lead author of the study.

“Now this is a big range, which is exactly why we call it a risk: Science needs to be clear about the uncertainty so that decision makers at the coast and in coastal megacities like Shanghai or New York can consider the potential implications in their planning process.”

“Rising sea level is widely regarded as a current and ongoing result of climate change that directly affects hundreds of millions of coastal dwellers around the world and indirectly affects billions more that share its financial costs,” said co-author Robert Bindschadler from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “Billions of Dollars, Euros, Yuan, etc. are at stake…”

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