Antarctic ice is now melting at twice the rate it was in the years leading up to 2011, data from the last three years has shown, suggesting the polar continent will contribute more to global sea level rise than previously thought.
The report, entitled Antarctica’s Ice Losses on the Rise, was carried out by a team of scientists from the U.K. Center for Polar Observation and Monitoring, and led by researchers at the University of Leeds.
The scientists have produced the first complete assessment of Antarctic ice sheet elevation change based on data from the European Space Agency's CryoSat-2 satellite, which showed that the continent is now losing 159 billion tons of ice each year.
“The increasing contribution of Antarctica to sea level rise is a global issue, and we need to use every technique available to understand where and how much ice is being lost,” Professor David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey said.
"Prediction of the rate of future global sea-level rise must begin with a thorough understanding of current changes in the ice sheets — this study puts us exactly where we need to be."
The melting of the polar ice sheets is a major contributor to rising sea levels, and based on the satellite data, predicted ice loss from Antarctica alone is enough to raise sea levels by nearly .02 inches each year — or almost two inches in the next century.
West Antarctica was found to be particularly vulnerable to melting, and glacial retreat in that region was found to be accelerating faster than other areas of the continent.
“We find that ice losses continue to be most pronounced along the fast-flowing ice streams of the [West Antarctic] Amundsen Sea sector, with thinning rates of between 4 and 8 meters [13 and 26 feet] per year,” lead author of the report Malcolm McMillan, from the University of Leeds, said.
Last week, a separate report on West Antarctic glacial melt found that the ice sheets disappearance was “unstoppable,” and scientists updated the predicted sea level rise by 2100 to be at least 7-feet.
Yesterday, another report based on a study of Greenland’s glaciers found that scientists had also underestimated its potential contribution to global sea level rise.