Antarctic Ice Sheet Is Melting Way Faster Than Expected, Scientists Warn

GETTYThe Ice Continent has lost 3trillion tonnes of ice in 25 years

However, ice retreat today is about more than 20 times that rate - more than 3,200 feet (1 kilometer) per year.

We have found that since 1992 Antarctica has lost 2,720 billion tonnes of ice, raising global sea levels by 7.6mm.

The most complete analysis to date measuring ice sheet changes in Antarctica reveals Earth's southernmost continent has lost some 3 trillion tonnes of ice over the past quarter-century.

Scientists have acknowledged that these sad results surpassed their expectations.

"The data from these spacecraft show us not only that a problem exists but that it is growing in severity with each passing year", explains NASA researcher Isabella Velicogna from the University of California, Irvine.

They include Antarctic glaciers speeding up in the wake of ice shelf collapse, warming waters in the Amundsen sea-which lies to the west of the continent-and reduced ice sheet growth in East Antarctica.

The measurements are vital information for the almost eight billion of us who don't live on Antarctica, because they allow scientists to compute sea level rise rates and contributions. 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.

While the current ice loss measured is literally a drop in the ocean compared to Antartica's catastrophic potential to raise global sea level by as much as 58 metres (190 ft) if the ice sheets were to completely melt, the apparent acceleration in the latest satellite observations is enough to have scientists duly anxious.

"Thanks to the satellites our space agencies have launched, we can now track their ice losses and global sea level contribution with confidence", Professor Andrew Shepherd, the lead researcher of the study from the University of Leeds, said in a press release on Wednesday. You can see ice loss in that area over time in the video above.

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The pace of change can be seen in how much more ice we're losing now than in the past.

The melting is caused by rising ocean temperatures due to climate change. "The future of Antarctica is tied to that of the rest of the planet and human society", said Steve Rintoul, of the Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research in Hobart, Tasmania, and one of the research team. This uncertainty persists because global sea level estimates for the Pliocene have large uncertainties and can not be used to rule out substantial terrestrial ice loss, and also because direct geological evidence bearing on past ice retreat on land is lacking.

In April, a team of United Kingdom researchers released a report saying that underwater glaciers in Antarctica are melting at an "alarming rate". The bedrock under the landbound ice slopes downward, which is in turn allowing those warm waters to march ever further inland.

"The fate of Antarctica, the fate of Greenland, is the fate of Miami", she said. Of the three, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is the largest potential contributor to sea level rise.

In the last 25 years, the ice sheet melted enough water to cover the whole of Texas to a depth of four metres.

This new knowledge will help us better predict sea level rise in the future.

Ekwurzel at the Union of Concerned Scientists said the study's findings mean "we have to go back and tell coastal planners that it may be worse than scientists thought before". This roughly suggests that Antarctica glacial melting is now adding about 0.5 millimeters per year to sea level rise.

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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