Antarctica is melting more than six times faster than it did in the 1980s, a new study shows.
Scientists used aerial photographs, satellite measurements and computer models to track how fast the southernmost continent has been melting since 1979 in 176 individual basins. They found the ice loss to be speeding up dramatically — a key indicator of human-caused climate change.
Since 2009, Antarctica has lost almost 278 billion tons of ice per year, the new study found. In the 1980s, it was losing 44 billion tons a year.
The recent melting rate is 15 percent higher than what a study found last year.
Eric Rignot, an ice scientist at the University of California at Irvine, was the lead author on the new study in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He said the big difference is that his satellite-based study found East Antarctica, which used to be considered stable, is losing 56 billion tons of ice a year. Last year’s study, which took several teams’ work into consideration, found little to no loss in East Antarctica recently and gains in the past.
Melting in West Antarctica and the Antarctica Peninsula account for about four-fifths of the ice loss. East Antarctica’s melting “increases the risk of [more than 10 feet] sea-level rise over the next century or so,” Rignot said.
Richard Alley, a Pennsylvania State University scientist not involved in Rignot’s study, called the study “really good science.”