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West Antarctic Ice Melt Has Tripled

Dec 03, 2014 11:03 AM EST
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Climate change is gradually increasing global temperatures every day, so it may not come as a surprise that in our warming world West Antarctic ice melt has tripled over the last decade, new research says.

Scientists at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), and NASA found that glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment are melting faster than any other part of Antarctica, and consequently are the continent's biggest contributors to sea level rise.

"The mass loss of these glaciers is increasing at an amazing rate," Isabella Velicogna, jointly of UCI and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.

The findings come in the midst of what is set to be the hottest year on record, sparking climate talks among world leaders in Peru over the next two weeks. Officials with the United Nations hope to reach an agreement next year on how to combat greenhouse gas emissions.

In the latest study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, researchers used four different measurement techniques to devise a comprehensive, 21-year analysis of ice melt in West Antarctica. They look at the total amount of loss as well as the rate of loss.

Astonishingly, the team found that glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment lost an average of 83 gigatons per year (91.5 billion US tons). Mt. Everest, for comparison, weighs about 161 gigatons, meaning West Antarctica shed a Mt. Everest-sized slab of ice every two years for the last 21 years.

What's more, the rate of ice loss is getting faster and faster. Over the last decade, glacial melting has increased an average of 16.3 gigatons per year - almost three times the rate of increase for the full 21-year period.

According to CBS News, West Antarctic ice melt has contributed to about a 4.5-millimeter increase in sea level rise.

But the picture across Antarctica isn't all bad. NASA reported in October that Antarctic sea ice extent smashed the previous record, exceeding 7.72 million square miles.

In addition, last week researchers operating an autonomous underwater vehicle found that Antarctic ice is thicker than previously thought.

"The fact that in the past year there has been an increase of sea ice cover doesn't mean the glacier isn't melting into the ocean," Velicogna noted. "They are different processes. They have a different evolution."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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