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Climate change accelerating rising sea levels

17 June 2018
Climate change accelerating rising sea levels

It reveals that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet may eventually contribute to multi-metre global sea-level rise if action is not taken and greenhouse levels in the atmosphere continue to rise over coming decades.

"Around Brooklyn you get flooding once a year or so, but if you raise sea level by 15cm then that's going to happen 20 times a year", said Professor Andrew Shepherd from the University of Leeds and the lead author of the study.

"The continent is causing sea levels to rise faster today than at any time in the past 25 years".

Ice edge of Pine Island Glacier on January 26, 2017.

"The increasing mass loss that they're finding is really worrying, particularly looking at the West Antarctic, the area that's changing most rapidly and it's the area that we're most anxious about, because it's below sea level", said Christine Dow, a glaciologist at the University of Waterloo in Canada who was not involved in the research.

At the Antarctic Peninsula, where air temperatures have risen sharply, ice shelves have collapsed as their surfaces have melted.

We have long suspected that changes in Earth's climate will affect the polar ice sheets.

The thaw, tracked by satellite data and other measurements, contributed 0.76 cm to sea level rise since 1992, they wrote in the journal Nature.

West Antarctica experienced the greatest recent change, with ice loss rising from 58.4 billion tons (53 billion metric tons) per year in the 1990s, to 175.3 billion tons (159 billion metric tons) a year since 2012.

Eric Rignot, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, added, "Measurements collected by radar satellites and Landsat over the years have documented glacier changes around Antarctica at an incredible level of precision, so that we have now a very detailed and thorough understanding of the rapid changes in ice flow taking place in Antarctica and how they raise sea level worldwide".

"A lot of the argument has been made by stakeholders that are not quite as interested in dealing with climate change that the East Antarctic ice sheet is actually gaining mass - therefore we don't need to worry", said Ms Michele Koppes, a glaciologist at the University of British Columbia, Canada.

A new study of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet during the Holocene suggests the ice sheet is unlikely to reverse its accelerating retreat as it has in the past.

Scientists say since 1992, three-trillion tons of ice has melted. The latter is increasingly being viewed as posing a potential planetary emergency, because of its enormous size and its role as a gateway that could allow the ocean to someday access the entirety of West Antarctica, turning the marine-based ice sheet into a new sea.

Increased ocean acidity is a global problem due to the increased amount of carbon dioxide from pollution that also hurts animals that live in waters.

Sea level will rise to 5 mm in one year, and it will flood cities on the coasts, causing economic losses of $1 trillion per year.

In total, sea levels have risen about 8cm since 1992. This week's issue of Nature features several other reports on Antarctica and its future.

"The next piece of the puzzle is to understand the processes driving this change".

Nevertheless, it is a grim warning that climate change is beginning to occur more so than ever, and we're approaching a time where we won't be able to turn back unless we drastically change the way we think about the environment.