Thursday, June 14, 2018

Antarctica is Losing Ice at an Alarming Rate

We've seen some truly alarming reports on the state of the ice in Antarctica in recent months, but maybe none of them have been quite so scary as the one released by researchers a few days back. A new report, published in Nature, indicates that the loss of ice on the frozen continent is far more than we expected and it is accelerating.

The report is from a study that looked at data between 1992 and 2017 and is the work of dozens of researchers who have been studying the impact of climate change on the Antarctic. Their findings indicate that over that span of time, more than three trillion tons of ice have melted there, pouring into the sea and starting what could be an irreversible trend in terms of ocean levels rising. Worse yet, the loss of ice is speeding up at an unprecedented rate, with more than 200 billion tons now disappearing on an annual basis.

Andrew Shepherd, a cryospheric scientist who was instrumental in putting this study together says, “That the rate of ice loss is now three times faster than it was prior to 2012, when we last looked. The longer term 25-year signal is now one of clearly increasing losses in most calendar years.”

In other words, the outlook for the next two and a half decades is grim, with more ice melting in most years, which will only lead to rising oceans around the globe. Most of the damage is being done on Antarctica's western edge, where warmer waters are actually finding their way under the ice. That is causing it to erode much faster than initially expected and is part of an accelerating cycle. As the ice melts, it falls into the warming oceans, causing it to rise and make its way further under the ice shelfs as a result. The Larsen Ice Shelf is also collapsing quickly, although the researchers say that the eastern coast of Antarctica appears to be fairly stable right now. 

As the ice retreats, scientists have also started to notice that the land beneath all of frozen water is starting to rise too. As the massive weight is taken away, it slowly begins to emerge from the ocean. Right now, that geological process is only a few millimeters each year, but it is happening, and changing the face of our planet as a result. 

I don't have to tell you what impact rising sea levels would have on the coastlines around the world. With hundreds of millions of people living in those areas, the continued melting of Antarctic ice and subsequent impact it would have on our oceans could mean that many of those people will have no place to live. For a long time now we've felt that this was an issue that we still had decades to solve, but it now appears that we may not have as much time as we thought. Sobering stuff to say the least. 

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