A new study has found that over the last two decades there has been “substantial changes” in Antarctica’s floating ice shelves, with some areas experiencing as much as an 18% decreases. The researchers argue that the findings show how the ice sheet is responding to climate change.
The study, which has been published in the journal Science, was led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. The researchers analysed data from nearly two decades of satellite missions, which shows that ice volume decline is accelerating as it responds to climate change.
The researchers found that total ice shelf volume across Antarctica’s changed very little between 1994 and 2003. However, it then rapidly declined, with some ice shelves losing up to 18% of their volume from 1994 to 2012. There are variances in regions, with the West Antarctic’s ice shelve losing ice through the entire observation period, with accelerated loss in the most recent decade, while earlier gains in East Antarctica ice shelf volume ceased after about 2003.
Fernando Paolo, a Scripps graduate, said, “18% over the course of 18 years is really a substantial change. Overall, we show not only total ice shelf volume is decreasing, but we seen an acceleration in the last decade.”
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While the melting ice shelves do not contribute directly to sea level rise, the researchers argue it could have an indirect impact. The ice shelves buttress the flow from grounded ice into the ocean, which does impact sea level rise, explained Scripps glaciologist Helen Amanda Fricker, who described this as a “key concern”.
It is estimated that ice shelves restraining the unstable sector of West Antarctica could lose half their volume within the next 200 years if current rates of thinning continue.
Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via Flickr