Scientists from the University of California, Irvine, NASA’s JPL, and the Netherlands’ Utrecht University have found that Antarctica is losing six times more ice each year today than it did 40 years ago. The researchers say that the accelerating ice loss caused global sea levels to rise over half an inch during that time.
Researcher and lead paper author Eric Rignot from UCI says that the team expects multi-meter sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries due to ice melt. For the study, the team of scientists conducted what Rignot says is the longest-ever assessment of remaining Antarctic ice mass.
The project went back for four decades and looked at 18 regions encompassing 176 basins and surrounding islands. The team compared snowfall accumulation in interior basins with ice discharge at their grounding lines. Grounding lines are the point where ice begins to float in the ocean and detach from the bed.
The sectors losing the most ice are adjacent to warm ocean water. The pace of melting rose dramatically between 1970 and 1990 according to the study. The Antarctic shed an average of 40 gigatons of ice mass annually from 1970 to 1990. A gigaton is 1 billion tons. Things sped up again between 2009 and 2017 with 252 gigatons of ice lost.
“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,” he said. “This region is probably more sensitive to climate [change] than has traditionally been assumed, and that’s important to know, because it holds even more ice than West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula together.”