Antarctica's ice loss has sextupled since the 1970s, raising risk of sea level rise

By Amanda Schmidt, AccuWeather staff writer
January 29, 2019, 9:51:41 AM EST


Ice loss from Antarctica has sextupled since the 1970s, according to a study published on Monday, Jan. 14, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers from the University of California, Irvine (UCI), NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the Netherlands' Utrecht University found that the accelerated melting caused global sea levels to rise more than half an inch between 1979 and 2017.

The study was prompted by “the need to establish the longest possible modern record of mass loss from Antarctica,” according to lead author Eric Rignot, Donald Bren Professor and chair of Earth System Science at UCI.

The assessment spanned over four decades, their record is 20 years longer than any other study published thus far. It is also geographically comprehensive, as the research team examined 18 regions encompassing 176 basins, as well as surrounding islands.

Antarctica ice ice

(Photo/Getty Images)


The team of researchers used a comprehensive, precise satellite record and output products from a regional atmospheric climate model to document the impact of ice loss on sea-level rise.

The team was able to recognize that between 1979 and 1990, Antarctica shed an average of 40 gigatons (1 billion tons) of ice mass per year. From 2009 to 2017, about 252 gigatons per year were lost.

The pace of melting rose remarkably over the four-decade period. From 1979 to 2001, it was an average of 48 gigatons annually per decade. The rate jumped to 134 gigatons for 2001 to 2017, an increase of 280 percent.

One of the key findings of the project is the contribution East Antarctica has made to total ice mass loss in recent decades.

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“The Wilkes Land sector of East Antarctica has, overall, always been an important participant in the mass loss, even as far back as the 1980s, as our research has shown," Rignot said to Science Daily.

This region is likely more sensitive to climate change than has traditionally been assumed. This is important because the region holds more ice than West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula together.

The sectors that are losing the most ice mass are adjacent to warm ocean water.

"As climate warming and ozone depletion send more ocean heat toward those sectors, they will continue to contribute to sea level rise from Antarctica in decades to come," Rignot said.

Antarctica Two 2.24.17

Aerial view of the Ross Ice Shelf. (Image/Getty)


Similarly, new research from the Ohio State University (OSU) released on Monday, Jan. 21, has determined that the Greenland ice sheet is melting more rapidly than scientists previously thought.

Both sets of research were published about a month following the release of NOAA's 2018 Arctic Report Card, which reflects on a range of land, ice and ocean observations made throughout the Arctic during the 2018 calendar year.

According to the report, in the year 2018, surface air temperatures in the Arctic continued to warm at roughly twice the rate relative to the rest of the globe.

2018 was the second warmest year, second only to 2016, on record in the Arctic since 1900, at +1.7 degrees Celsius relative to the long-term average between 1981 and 2010.

The report shows that 2018 continued to follow a trend of Arctic warming and sea ice melting. All five years since 2014 have been warmer than any prior records.

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