The ice in Antarctica is melting six times faster than it did just 40 years ago, a new study reports.
This dramatic acceleration of the ice loss is a clear indication of human-caused climate change, the study authors said.
Lead author Eric Rignot, an ice scientist at the University of California–Irvine, said the melting ice has caused global sea levels to rise more than half an inch since 1979.
While that may not sound like much, the amount is certainly alarming to climate scientists, as it’s a preview of things to come:
“That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak,” Rignot said. “As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-meter sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries.” In this century alone, a ten-foot rise is possible, he said.
(A reminder: This isn’t the floating sea ice around Antarctica, which melts and refreezes with the seasons. Instead, this is freshwater ice on the gigantic ice sheets that cover most of the continent.)
Since 2009, almost 278 billion tons of ice has melted away from Antarctica per year, the new study found. In the 1980s, it was losing “only” 44 billion tons a year.
Scientists combined satellite data records with computer model outputs to estimate the Antarctic ice loss since 1979.
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East Antarctica, which used to be considered stable, is losing 56 billion tons of ice a year. A study last year found little to no loss in East Antarctica.
Richard Alley, a Pennsylvania State University scientist not involved in Rignot’s study, called it “really good science.”
Rignot said that as climate warming and ozone depletion continue to send more ocean heat toward the Antarctic, the continent’s melting ice will contribute to sea-level rise for “decades to come.”
The solution to halt the melting isn’t a surprise: Stop the burning of fossil fuels, which are releasing greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans.
The study was published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Contributing: The Associated Press