Antarctica is shedding ice at an increasingly rapid rate, potentially imperiling coastlines around the world as sea levels increase in response, a new study finds.
Why it matters: Antarctica is already contributing a growing amount to sea level rise, the study found, and things could get much worse.
The big picture: The new study, published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that Antarctica has shed ice at a growing rate in recent decades.
From 1979 to 1990, the average annual ice mass loss rate was 40 billion metric tons per year. This jumped to 252 billion metric tons per year, between 2009 to 2017.
The study, from glaciologists at the University of California at Irvine and Netherlands’ Utrecht University, also contains the worrisome conclusion that East Antarctica has been losing mass since the 1980s. That’s important because previous studies had regarded that part of the continent as stable or not yet undergoing a net loss.
Details: Warming ocean waters are weakening floating ice shelves, which act like doorstops that keep massive amounts of inland ice from flowing quickly into the sea.
The warm waters, pumped in by natural variability and human-caused climate change, are melting such shelves