Antarctic Melting at Faster Rate Than Previously Thought
In a new report published in The Cryosphere, scientists at NASA have determined that West Antarctic ice is melting at an accelerated rate by analyzing the continent through advanced satellite images.
The data for 2015 shows that Antarctica lost about 1929 gigatons of ice every year. The vast majority of the lost ice is replaced by snowfall, but the difference between the two metrics has been increasing rapidly since 2008. 2008 registered a net loss of 36 gigatons of ice while 2015 saw Antarctica registering a net loss of 183 gigatons of ice.
Researchers suggest that this rapid acceleration of melting rate is due to rising ocean temperatures. Data also shows that West Antarctic ice is melting at a much faster rate than East Antarctic due to the former having an inherently more unstable structure as a result of its concave shape.
Researchers estimate that global sea levels would rise by about 3 meters (9 feet) if the entire West Antarctic ice sheet collapses into the ocean. Recently, the region has garnered climate scientists’ attention due to an iceberg twice the size of Paris breaking off last September.
The analysis on the new satellite images have been conducted through a revolutionary computer system that maps the entire continent and compares it through different time periods, all without the need for manual labor. Scientists hope that this new technology will allow more accurate and timely analysis of future climate change trends.
Previously, researchers relied on manually studying a few high-quality images with a limited geographic scope in order to find any subtle changes. The computer system used in the report can instead accurately analyze hundreds of thousands of satellite images of the entire continent. It’s also able to analyze images that are low-quality or obstructed by cloud.
Antarctica’s accelerated melting problem has also been highlighted in numerous other studies. The Australian Antarctic Program recently announced that the Totten Glacier, located in Southern Antarctica, is at an increased risk of melting due to the glacier being more in direct contact with ocean water than previously thought.
The report suggests that the melting of the Totten Glacier could potentially be more critical than the melting of the entire West Antarctic ice sheet due to the amount of ice being held by the glacier. The study used seismic technology typically used by oil companies to show that the Totten Glacier is sitting on a less rock-based foundation than previously thought.