Antarctica is losing six times more ice now than it was in the 1980s: Study

Antarctica's ice melting increased by 280 percent in the last sixteen years according to the study.

Antarctica is melting more than six times faster than it did in the 1980s — there has been a sixfold increase in yearly ice mass loss between 1979 and 2017.

To break it down, between 1979 and 1990 (first decade), Antarctica shed an average of 40 gigatonnes of ice mass annually, and from 2009 to 2017 (roughly the fourth decade), about 252 gigatonnes per year were lost.

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

The study was published by Glaciologists from the University of California, Irvine, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Netherlands' Utrecht University on 14 January in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Representational Image.

Representational Image.

Scientists used aerial photographs, satellite measurements and computer models to track how fast the southern-most continent has been melting since 1979 in 176 individual basins. They found the ice loss to be accelerating dramatically — a key indicator of human-caused climate change.

Eric Rignot, a University of California, Irvine, ice scientist, was the lead author on the new study in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He said the big difference is that his satellite-based study found East Antarctica, which used to be considered stable, is losing 56 billion tons (51 billion metric tons) of ice a year. Last year’s study, which took several teams’ work into consideration, found little to no loss in East Antarctica recently and gains in the past.

"That's just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak," said Eric Rignot. "As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-meter sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries."

Melting in West Antarctica and the Antarctica Peninsula account for about four-fifths of the ice loss. East Antarctica’s melting “increases the risk of multiple meter (more than 10 feet) sea level rise over the next century or so,” Rignot said.

Richard Alley, a Pennsylvania State University scientist not involved in Rignot’s study, called it “really good science.”

With inputs from The Associated Press

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