Antarctica's Rapid Rate of Melting Ice is Already Impacting Earth's Sea Levels

Wednesday, 13 June 2018 - 6:06PM
Wednesday, 13 June 2018 - 6:06PM
Antarctica's Rapid Rate of Melting Ice is Already Impacting Earth's Sea Levels
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Flickr/Christopher Michel
When it comes to pushing back the literal rising tides of climate change, it's hard to think of anything that could provoke a stronger global response at this point. But it's still important to know how bad things are getting.

And while Antarctica might seem far off, one of the largest collections of ice on the planet could hugely impact the rest of us should something catastrophic befall it. That hasn't happened yet, but a new study funded by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) concluded that Antarctica's rate of melting ice is accelerating, and is now melting three times faster than it was back in 2012.

The full examination of melting Antarctic ice, called the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE), is one of the most comprehensive looks at how climate change is impacting the icy continent, and they just published their results in the journal Nature. And since 2012 alone, the melting ice has caused the global sea levels to rise about 0.12 inches (3 millimeters) overall.

The IMBIE consisted of 24 satellite surveys of Antarctica (mostly from NASA and ESA satellites), and included cooperation from over 80 international scientists and 42 organizations around the world. They looked at how the continent has changed from 1992 until now, and that recent 0.12 inches was part of a larger sea level rise of 0.3 inches (7.6 millimeters) during that timeframe which can be attributed completely to Antarctica's melting.

That may not sound like much right now, but the IMBIE estimates that if Antarctica ever melted in full, it has enough ice to raise sea levels by 190 feet (58 meters), which would be more than enough to make most cities sitting anywhere near a coastline entirely inhospitable due to flooding. 

Erik Ivins, an assessment team co-leader at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the following in an official statement from the space agency:

Opening quote
"This is the most robust study of the ice mass balance of Antarctica to date. It covers a longer period than our 2012 IMBIE study, has a larger pool of participants, and incorporates refinements in our observing capability and an improved ability to assess uncertainties."
Closing quote

Antarctica may be one of the largest (potential) contributors to rising sea levels, but it's not the only source of unfrozen water that could be let loose into the oceans. According to NASA's climate change website, sea levels as a whole have risen 8 inches (203 millimeters) since the earliest records were taken back in 1880. Going by current models, it should raise anywhere between 1 to 4 feet (0.3 - 1.2 meter) by 2100 and will only keep accelerating.

In short: yet again, things are only going to get worse until we start doing more.
Science News