Antarctica’s ice sheet is melting at rapidly increasing rate, now pouring more than 200 billion tons of ice into the ocean annually and raising sea levels a half millimeter every year, a team of 80 scientists reported Wednesday.
The melt rate has tripled in the past decade, the study concluded. If the acceleration continues, some of scientists’ worst fears about rising oceans could be realized, leaving low-lying cities and communities with less time to prepare than they’d hoped.
The result also reinforces that nations have a short window – perhaps no more than a decade – to cut greenhouse gas emissions if they hope to avert some of the worst consequences of climate change.
Antarctica, the planet’s largest ice sheet, lost 219 billion tons of ice annually from 2012 through 2017 – approximately triple the 73 billion ton melt rate of a decade ago, the scientists concluded. From 1992 through 1997, Antarctica lost 49 billion tons of ice annually.
“The increasing mass loss that they’re finding is really worrying, particularly looking at the West Antarctic, the area that’s changing most rapidly and it’s the area that we’re most worried about, because it’s below sea level,” said Christine Dow, a glaciologist at the University of Waterloo in Canada who was not involved in the research.
“If you start removing mass from there, you can have a very large scale evacuation of ice into the ocean and significant sea level rise,” she continued.