Melting of Antarctica is accelerating at an alarming rate, with about 3 trillion tons of ice disappearing since 1992, an international team of ice experts said in a new study.
“There has been a sharp increase, with almost half the loss coming in the last five years alone,” says Andrew Shepherd at the University of Leeds, UK, one of the 84 researchers involved in the study. “The outlook for the future is looking different to what it was.”
In the last quarter century, the southern-most continent’s ice sheet — a key indicator of climate change — melted into enough water to cover Texas to a depth of nearly 39,6 cm, scientists calculated.
Consequences of Antarctic’s melting
From 1992 to 2011, Antarctica lost nearly 84 billion tons of ice a year. From 2012 to 2017, the melt rate increased to more than 241 billion tons a year, according to the study Wednesday in the journal Nature.
“I think we should be worried. That doesn’t mean we should be desperate,” said University of California Irvine’s Isabella Velicogna, one of 88 co-authors. “Things are happening. They are happening faster than we expected.”
In particular, a 2016 computer modelling study concluded that Antarctica alone could lose enough ice by 2100 to raise sea level by 2 metres. This means overall sea level could rise by more than 3 m by 2100. It will keep rising long after that, perhaps by 20 m or more.
While many glaciologists are sceptical about the 2016 study, nobody knows for sure how fast the seas will rise. The problem we have is that the computer models are essentially the only way we have to forecast how much ice Antarctica will lose. And the only way to check those models are in the right ballpark is to compare their predictions to what is actually happening.
“The models must be calibrated and tested,” says team member Michiel van den Broeke of Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
The trillion-dollar question is whether the increase in Antarctic ice loss is a temporary blip, or if it will continue to increase in a non-linear fashion: rapidly rising to several millimetres per year, then to several centimetres per year and so on.
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