Findings from an European study have revealed that Antarctica’s annual ice loss has doubled in recent years

ANTARCTICA — Studies of the images from the Cryosat-2 satellite, which was launched by the European Space Agency in 2010, concluded that almost 160 billion tonnes of ice are melting away from Antarctica annually. This equates to a 0.43 mm rise in sea levels globally each year.

The data comes from a specialised instrument that uses radar – collected over a three year period – to the make estimates based on the shape of the glacier. This is despite difficulty in radar measurement in the past due to Antarctica’s jagged and uneven terrain. The data is to be published in Geophysical Research Letters.

The study looks at the continent by dividing it into three areas – the West Antarctic, the East Antarctic and the Antarctic Peninsula, with 134 billions tonnes of ice lost from the West Antarctic alone.

Last week it was announced that the collapse of the Western Antarctic Sheet had already begun. Two separate teams of researchers – one at NASA and another at the University of Washington described the collapse as irreversible and unstoppable. Although not predicted in the immediate future, if the entire sheet were to melt sea levels are thought to rise by 13 feet.

Scientists believe the reason the West is more vulnerable to ice loss is due to an influx of warmer water in the ocean. This is thought to have contributed to the melting of six large glaciers in a region known as the Amundsen Sea Embayment.

The East Antarctic reportedly has no net loss or gain of ice. In previous studies it had been seen to gain ice mass, partially due to snowfall.

The melting of the ice caps and resulting rising sea levels has long been of concern to many, including various scientific and political communities. It remains a global issue, as a significant rise in sea levels puts low-level lands at risk all over the world. Although these recent finding suggest that the melting may be inevitable, appropriate research must be carried out to conclude what can be done to slow it down, as well as make suitable preparations for communities which lie on areas that may be at risk of erosion and flooding.

— Bethan Young, Editor (Antarctica) 

Image Courtesy: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (https://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/5937599688/), Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic | Flickr