In study published today in the Journal Science the researchers found that on average Antarctica’s Ice Shelves are thinning by about 1.6 feet (50 cm) per year, but some of them are thinning faster by as much as 328 feet (100 meters) annually faster than ever, according to Eric Rignot a co-author and researcher at the University of California.
Traditionally has been considered that the Antarctic Icebergs become smaller when chunks of ice breaks off of floating ice shelves but new research reveals something that is invisible to the naked eye: the Icebergs primarily melt from below.
When ice shelves lose mass, they speed up the melting, contributing to global sea levels to rise.
The Journal Science found that on average, Antarctica’s ice shelves are thinning by about 1.6 feet per year and some are melting even faster.
“These changes are faster and larger than anything people anticipated,” said Eric Rignot, a study co-author and researcher at the University of California.
Antarctica’s Larsen B Ice Shelf that collapsed in 2002 has melted and the glaciers that were slowed by the shelf’s enormous mass have speed up, flowing to sea up to 8 times faster than before the collapse.
This is the first “comprehensive estimate of all Antarctic ice-shelf melting and calving,” said Paul Holland, a researcher at the British Antarctic Survey who wasn’t involved in the study. Due to the large amount of data that went into the study, it took nearly a decade to complete, Rignot said.
They calculated the mass of ice shelves using information from NASA’s Ice Bridge Mission which was a 6 year campaign to survey and monitor Earth’ Polar Ice Sheet and also satellites and airplane radar readings, penetrating the ice and measuring their thick.
They also calculated snowfall using computer models that show the flux of moisture from the atmosphere to the ground. By combining these data, the scientists figured out “what fraction of Antarctic glacial ice is lost through icebergs, and what is lost through ocean melting,” Holland said.
“This was quite a big gap in our understanding of how the ice sheets interact with their surroundings, and what it shows is that the oceans play a bigger role than we’d previously thought,” says Hamish Pritchard, a glaciologist at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge who led the Nature study. Other teams are working on similar analysis, Pritchard says, but “Eric won the race.”
Antarctica’s Icebergs are melting faster than ever, an example is the Getz Ice Shelf, that produces more melt water than ice shelves around the continent that are ten times its size.
Written by Edgar Soto