Ice glaciers in West Antarctica are melting much faster than they were 40 years ago, according to a new study. Researchers have found that the amount of ice draining from the large glaciers increased between the years 1973 and 2010 by as much as 77 per cent, possibly due to the impact of climate change. This has already started to impact sea levels and will continue to do so.
A new study by the University of California-Irvine looked at the Smith, Kohler, Pine Island, Haynes, Pope and Thwaites glaciers, all of which discharge melted ice into the Amundsen Sea Embayment. Researchers found that the rate of melt from these six glaciers was responsible for around ten per cent of the sea level increase between 2005 and 2010, meaning they are discharging almost as much ice as the Greenland ice sheet.
The most active of the six glaciers is the Pine Island Glacier, which is now discharging around 75 per cent more ice than four decades ago, often in the form of huge icebergs. The Thwaites Glacier is the widest of the six and was recorded as having accelerated levels of ice loss during 2006.
Jeremie Mouginot, a glaciologist at the University of California-Irvine and co-author of the study, said: “What we found was a sustained increase in ice discharge – which has a significant impact on sea level rise. To see Thwaites, this monster glacier, start accelerating in 2006 means we could see even more change in the near future that could affect sea level.”
The total collapse of the glaciers would result in sea levels rising by around 1.2 metres, according to the study. This would mean that coastlines would be dramatically changed and that violent storm surges would be more likely to occur.
As climate change causes the world’s oceans to warm, this is increasing the rate at which the glaciers are melting. This is causing many of the glaciers that act as dams to ice streams flowing through West Antarctica to melt from below, allowing more ice to flow into the ocean, resulting in higher sea levels.
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