While the last run of decent weather has had us happy to see summer arrive on these British Isles for the first time in what feels like an eternity, we forget summers are a fact of life, another one is the rising of the sea levels.
How fast this process happens depends on how quickly Antarctic ice melts, and there’s enough stacked down there to raise sea levels by almost 200 feet. According to a recent study in the journal Nature published last week, Antarctica is melting faster than we expected.
Only it’s getting faster over recent years. Not even kidding, you may want to be running to the hills right now.
INSIDER reports in a 25-year period between 1992-2017, Antarctica lost more than 3.3 trillion tons of ice – that’s 907,184,740,000,000kg for the metrically minded – of ice, which led to sea levels around the world rising by 8mm.
40 per cent of that occurred in the last five years between 2012-2017, according to the new study. 1992-2012 saw Antarctica lose 84 billion tons of ice a year and that jumped to more than 240 billion tons per year over the next five years.
A continuation at that rate of acceleration could lead to runaway ice melt and rapid sea level rise.
Chris Rapley, Professor of Climate Science at University College London told the UK Science Media Centre:
In 2005 at the Exeter conference on ‘Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change’ I was quoted as suggesting that the “Slumbering Giant seemed to be awakening”.
This paper suggests it is stretching its limbs.
The biggest changes have been seen in West Antarctica where glaciers holding back ice sheets rest on rapidly warming ocean waters.
Dr Twila Moon, Research Scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, said:
This research is further confirmation that Antarctica is losing ice at an increasingly fast pace. While changes in East Antarctica continue to be small, and are the most difficult to pin down, the dramatic changes across the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica are driving the train.
Continued ice loss in Antarctica is of great concern for humanity, affecting coastal communities, people, and infrastructure. The good news is that limited climate change can slow the rate of ice loss, and there are many proven actions that can reduce climate change and be implemented immediately.
The time is now for all of us to act.
The new study brought together scientists from 44 international organisations who combined data from 24 different satellite surveys.
Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds, who led the study along with Erik Ivins of NASA’s JPL Laboratory, said:
Thanks to the satellites our space agencies have launched, we can now track [polar ice sheet] ice losses and global sea level contribution with confidence.
[T]he continent is causing sea levels to rise faster today than at any time in the past 25 years.
An article published alongside the new research offers two potential outcomes for our future. To paraphrase, we’ll either reduce our emissions and keep global temperatures from climbing more than two degrees Celsius by the end of the century and avoid rapid ice sheet collapse, or we won’t.
Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, said to the Science Media Centre:
If we aren’t already alert to the dangers posed by climate change, this should be an enormous wake-up call.
With the possibility of a ‘pulse’ where massive ice sheets pour into the ocean leading to sea-level rises of more than 10 feet by 2100, we hope the world wakes up and we take the first scenario where we keep our emissions, temperatures and sea-level under control.
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Tim Horner is a sub-editor at UNILAD. He graduated with a BA Journalism from University College Falmouth before most his colleagues were born. A previous editor of adult mags, he now enjoys bringing the tone down in the viral news sector.