Two-Fold Increase in Antarctica's Ice Loss Since 2010, ESA

First Posted: May 20, 2014 11:30 AM EDT

The latest satellite observations reveal that the Antarctica is losing ice at a faster pace when compared to the last survey conducted in the region.

The new study based on three years of observations made from European Space Agency's CryoSat satellite reveals that the Antarctic ice sheet is shedding nearly 19 billion tons of ice each year that is approximately two times greater when the continent was last surveyed in 2010.

 The satellite observation highlights that during the survey period i.e. 2010-2013, West Antarctica lost nearly 134 tons of ice each year whereas East Antarctica lost just 3 tonnes of ice yearly and the Antarctic Peninsula lost 23 billion tonnes of ice each year.

The major contributors to the elevating global sea levels are the polar ice sheets and this latest measured ice loss from Antarctica alone contributed to a 0.45 mm rise in global sea levels per year.  This finding reveals that the pattern of imbalance continues to be controlled by the glaciers thinning in the Amundsen Sea Sector, West Antarctica.

When compared to the previous measurements it is seen that the average rate of ice thinning in West Antarctica has soared and the yearly loss from this region is one third more than the measurements taken nearly 5 years back.

"We find that ice losses continue to be most pronounced along the fast-flowing ice streams of the Amundsen Sea sector, with thinning rates of 4-8 m per year near to the grounding lines - where the ice streams lift up off the land and begin to float out over the ocean - of the Pine Island, Thwaites and Smith Glaciers," said Dr Malcolm McMillan from the University of Leeds, UK, and lead author of the study.

The West Antarctica has long been identified as the most vulnerable region to climate change. Recent observations show that the glaciers have crossed the point of irreversible retreat. This ice melt may lead to a four-foot rise in sea levels by 200 years, a study by NASA and University of California revealed, according to IBT.

"It adds concrete evidence that dramatic changes are under way in this part of our planet. The challenge is to use this evidence to test and improve the predictive skill of climate models," said Prof. Andrew Shepherd from the University of Leeds, UK, who led the study.

The finding was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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