A new study about the rate of ice loss in Antarctica caused by warmer ocean waters has raised the alarm that sea levels will be rising much faster in the future.
According to the scientists involved in the study this will pose a grave threat to coastal cities and low-lying areas that have not made preparations for the sudden rise in sea levels.
The study was done by a large group of Antarctic experts who worked together reviewing two dozen new measurements of Antarctic ice loss. They compiled a report comparing their notes and reconciling their differences which now gives us definitive figures on ice losses in Antarctica. Their results — called the “Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-Comparison Exercise” (IMBIE) — were published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
According to one of the scientists, “We took all the estimates across all the different techniques, and we got this consensus. The detailed record shows an acceleration, starting around 2002.”
It’s this acceleration in ice melting that is causing a great deal of anxiety among the scientific community.
The report concluded that during the period from 1992 through 2017 the Antarctic ice sheet lost approximately 3 trillion tons of ice, but forty percent of that loss has occurred in just the past five years, showing a rapidly accelerating rate of loss.
They said that Antarctica is losing ice so rapidly because it is being melted from below by warming ocean waters. According to the report, this process has rendered the largest glaciers unstable and has made them more susceptible to rapid melting in coming years.
The West Antarctica ice sheet lost 160 billion tons of ice a year over the past five years, but only 65 billion tons a year for the previous five years. This led the scientists to conclude that the rate of ice loss has tripled, which came as a shock since no one had measured these ice losses before.
According to the study, 34,000 square kilometers (more than 13,000 square miles) of ice shelf area has been lost since the first measurements in the 1950s.
This new information is feeding fears on the part of many who believe that increasing rates of ice loss pose a grave danger to low-lying coastal areas which are often heavily populated.
In a controversial 2016 study, scientists found that Earth’s sea level could rise above one meter (or 3.3 feet) in the next 50 years if polar ice-sheet loss DOUBLES every 10 years. But if it TRIPLES every decade the sea level rises will be much more severe and there could be massive coastal flooding even sooner than they had thought.
Of course they do not have proof that the current rate of change in Antarctica will continue into the future, but scientists do fear worsening losses.
“I don’t know if it’s going to keep exactly tripling, but I think it has a lot of potential to keep significantly increasing,” one of the scientists said about the new study.
If this happens there could be very serious consequences felt by many millions of people who are not currently prepared for these rapidly rising sea levels. Global warming is real and it’s far past the time where our business and governmental leaders start paying attention to this fact and begin to take real steps to deal with it.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.