Antarctica’s Coastal Glaciers Crumbling At Faster Rate Than Previously Believed, Study Finds

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Topline

Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have found that Antarctica’s coastal glaciers are melting at a rate faster than nature can replenish, raising further concerns about rising sea levels driven by climate change.

Key Facts

The net loss of the “calving” of coastal glacier chunks into the ocean over the past 25 years was nearly as great as the net amount of ice scientists were aware was being lost due to the melting of ice shelves by warming waters, according to the study, which was published Wednesday in Nature.

The net loss of the ice sheet from calving alone over that period amounted to almost 37,000 square kilometers, an area nearly the size of Switzerland, amounting to 1.9% of the total ice-shelf area, it says.

The trend was more prominent in West Antarctica, which has suffered more from warming oceans, but East Antarctica, which was thought to be less vulnerable, has also seen some losses.

Key Background

The scientists observed the glaciers by synthesizing satellite imagery. Using visible, thermal-infrared and radar wavelengths, they’ve been able to accurately track glacier activity over miles of the Antarctic coast. Based on this recent study, researchers found that it would be unlikely for Antarctica to return to pre-2000 glacier levels by the end of the century due to the significant losses seen now.

Big Number

12 trillion. That’s how many tons Antarctica’s ice shelves have been reduced by since 1997, doubling what previous estimates suggested.

What To Watch For

Commenting on the findings for the Science Media Centre, Eric Wolff, a professor at the University of Cambridge, said that sea level rise may only be modest if we keep to the 2 degrees of global warming target of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Further Reading

Antarctic calving loss rivals ice-shelf thinning (Nature)

A Massive Hole Found In A Glacier In Antarctica Is Really Bad News For Beach Homes Everywhere (Forbes)

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