Climate change accelerating rise in sea levels

Sea level contribution due to the Antarctic ice sheet between 1992 and 2017 from data gathered by international

Sea level contribution due to the Antarctic ice sheet between 1992 and 2017 from data gathered by international

Between 1992 and 1997, it was losing ice at an average rate of 49 billion metric tons (49 gigatons) a year.

Two-fifths of that ice loss occurred in the last five years, a three-fold increase in the pace at which Antarctica is shedding its kilometres-thick casing, a consortium of 84 scientists reported in the journal Nature. But what concerns scientists is the balance of how much snow and ice accumulates in a given year versus the amount that is lost.

When you add the melting seen on Antarctica to other sources of land-based ice melt, "every millimeter per year counts", William Sweet, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told CBS News.

West Antarctica lost 159 billion tons of ice a year from 2012 through 2017, compared with just 65 billion tons from 2002 through 2007.

Scientists have acknowledged that these sad results surpassed their expectations.

"We should be anxious", said University of California Irvine's Isabella Velicogna, one of 88 co-authors. To put that into perspective, the massive iceberg that broke off from Antarctica's Larsen C ice shelf in July 2017 - one of the largest icebergs in recorded history - weighed over 1 trillion tons, and was roughly the size of the state of Delaware.

However, he said that there is growing evidence that projections of Antarctica's influence on sea-level rise may have been underestimated.

"We took all the estimates across all the different techniques, and we got this consensus", Isabella Velicogna, an Antarctic ice expert at the University of California at Irvine, told The Washington Post.

"Continued high greenhouse gas emissions risk committing us to changes in Antarctica that will have long-term and far-reaching consequences for Earth and humanity".

The researchers, including those from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, reviewed decades of satellite measurements to reveal how and why Antarctica's glaciers, ice shelves, and sea ice are changing. The study in Wednesday's journal Nature is part of an worldwide effort to assess vulnerable ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, which are key indicators of climate change.

The team from northern IL analyzed sediments from the base of the ice sheet in Ross Sea region and found signs of left behind by marine life, which indicated the area was linked to ocean waters sometime in the last 40,000 years, which was more recent than previously thought.

Chris Rapley, a professor of climate science at University College London who was not involved in the study, wrote in a comment that he had suggested in 2005 that a "slumbering giant (of ice in Antarctica) seemed to be awakening". The total contribution is highlighted by the bold white line, while the blue lines track the individual contributions from East Antarctic, the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica.

"The future we choose could determine when we need to rebuild airports, cities and infrastructure so that we can become resilient to such changes", she said.

Which satellites contributed to the research around ice melting in Antarctica?

Greenland's dwindling ice sheet, as well as melting mountain glaciers elsewhere and the fact that warmer water expands, are also contributing to rising seas.

So far scientists are not comfortable saying the trend in East Antarctica will continue.

A study published on Wednesday by more than 80 co-authors from around the world in Nature found that Antarctica's melt rate has tripled in the last decade. Overall 34,000 square kilometers of ice shelve area has disappeared since the 1950s.

In contrast, a significant cut in emissions would protect the vulnerable ice sheets and avert the threat of major sea level rises.

Regardless of the exact rate, these findings emphasize the importance of efforts to combat climate change.

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