Technology & Science

Antarctica is losing ice way faster today than in 1980s

Antarctica is melting more than six times as fast than it did in the 1980s, a new study shows. Since 2009, Antarctica has lost almost 252 billion tonnes of ice per year, compared to 40 billion tonnes a year in the 1980s.

Even East Antarctica, which used to be considered stable, is losing 51 billion tonnes of ice a year

Adelie penguins stand atop ice near the French station at Dumont díUrville in East Antarctica in a 2010 photo. A new study shows that since 2009, Antarctica has lost almost 252 billion tonnes of ice per year. In the 1980s, it was losing 40 billion tonnes a year. (Pauline Askin/Reuters)

Antarctica is melting more than six times as fast than it did in the 1980s, a new study shows.

Scientists used aerial photographs, satellite measurements and computer models to track how fast the southern-most continent has been melting since 1979 in 176 individual basins. They found the ice loss to be accelerating dramatically — a key indicator of human-caused climate change.

Since 2009, Antarctica has lost almost 252 billion tonnes of ice per year, the new study found. In the 1980s, it was losing 40 billion tonnes a year.

The recent melting rate is 15 per cent higher than what a study found last year.

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. He said the big difference is that his satellite-based study found East Antarctica, which used to be considered stable, is losing 51 billion tonnes 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.

Sea level risk rises

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 multiple metre 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 it "really good science."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.