Published: Thu, January 17, 2019
Science | By Michele Flores

Rising carbon emissions putting Antarctic ice sheet under threat

Rising carbon emissions putting Antarctic ice sheet under threat

The study showed, rather than minimal contribution to ice melt, the East Ice Sheet actually, particularly the area known as Wilkes Land, was responsible for more than 30 percent of Antarctica's contribution to sea level rise.

Understanding Antarctica and the delicate balance of ice melt draining into the Southern Ocean, and the replenishing snowfall over the continent's interior, is critically important when estimating how much seas will rise around the globe as a result of global warming.

"As climate warming and ozone depletion send more ocean heat toward those sectors, they will continue to contribute to sea level rise from Antarctica in decades to come", Rignot added.

Ice loss in Antarctica increased from 40 gigatons (or one billion tons) per year from 1979 to 1990 all the way up to 252 gigatons per year from 2009 to 2017, a six-fold increase.

Eric Rignot, a University of California, Irvine, ice scientist, was the lead author on the new study in Monday's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

An global team of scientists from the University of California, Irvine (UCI), NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and Utrecht University in the Netherlands conducted the "longest-ever assessment of remaining Antarctic ice mass".

"The places undergoing changes in Antarctica are not limited to just a couple places, " Rignot said in the article.

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Two new studies released tell the same foreboding message - our planet's ice is melting at a frightening rate.

The pacing of the most recent ice ages, for example, is attributable to changes in the shape of our planet's orbit around the sun as well as to cyclic changes in the tilt of the Earth on its axis and its "top-like" wobble on that axis, all of which combine to influence the distribution and intensity of solar radiation. This new data from the Antarctic could push that even further. From 1979 to 2001, it was an average of 48 gigatonnes annually per decade.

"What's saved us in the past is carbon dioxide levels have been low enough that sea ice has grown", Levy said.

In December, a study presented by geologists suggested that if the West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS) melted, it could cause a massive global flood.

"It just so happens that our tilt right now is relatively high, and so perhaps in the coming decades - centuries, we would expect to see, an amplification of warming around the Antarctic that we haven't seen for millions of years", Mr Levy said. Between 1979 and 2017, Antarctic ice loss increased by a factor of six, causing sea levels to rise by half an inch.

"Our expectation would be that the Earth and the ice sheets become much more sensitive again to this obliquity forcing". The ice shelves act as an ocean-facing, protective barrier, keeping land-ice locked in place.

But a shift in wind patterns around Antarctica, induced by climate change, has led some to believe warm water carried by a circular current off the continental shelf has started invading the ice. To prevent climate catastrophe, we urgently need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by switching to renewable, non-polluting fuels.

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