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Satellite Mission indicates Greater Losses of Antarctic Ice Sheet

May 19, 2014; 8:47 PM ET

The first complete assessment of Antarctic ice sheet elevation change, which was done through the use of altimeters on board a satellite shows that the ice sheet as a whole is now losing 159 billion tons of ice each year.

The research team from the University of Leeds collected the data over a 3-year period from the European Space Agency's CryoSat-2 satellite mission.

This particular mission was able to survey virtually all of the Antarctic continent, including the rugged terrain of the Antarctic Peninsula compared to more sparse coverage of previous missions, which indicated ice sheet losses that were half as much as what was found over the past three years with this updated method.

On average West Antarctica lost 134 gigatonnes of ice, East Antarctica three gigatonnes, and the Antarctic Peninsula 23 gigatonnes in each year between 2010 and 2013, which equals a total loss of 159 gigatonnes each year.

The polar ice sheets are a major contributor to global sea level rise and, when combined, the Antarctic losses detected by CryoSat-2 are enough to raise global sea levels by 0.45 millimeters each year alone, according to the report.

Key excerpts from the University of Leeds report.......

Lead author Dr Malcolm McMillan from the University of Leeds said: "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 between 4 and 8 meters per year near to the grounding lines of the Pine Island, Thwaites and Smith Glaciers."

Professor Andrew Shepherd, also of the University of Leeds, who led the study, said: "Thanks to its novel instrument design and to its near-polar orbit, CryoSat allows us to survey coastal and high-latitude regions of Antarctica that were beyond the capability of past altimeter missions, and it seems that these regions are crucial for determining the overall imbalance."

Dr Ian Joughin at the University of Washington, author of a recent study simulating future Antarctic ice sheet losses added: "This study does a nice job of revealing the strong thinning along the Amundsen Coast, which is consistent with theory and models indicating this region is in the early stages of collapse."

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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