Here is the latest shocking headline in this age of climate change: “Antarctica losing six times more ice mass annually now, than 40 years ago”. To explain the breaking science we are joined by Dr. Eric Rignot, Chair of Earth System Science at University of California, Irvine, and Senior Research Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
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Just 10 years ago we were told “don’t worry about Antarctica“. Sea ice there was actually expanding. We thought snow was piling up deeper in the interior of the continent. But satellite measurements show Antarctica is losing mass. Ice must be peeling off into the ocean faster than snow can accumulate.
In 2014, Eric and his team shocked the world when they reported melting in a section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is “unstoppable”. In this paper, and in this interview, we discover it is not just the Western part going. East Antarctica, which holds enough ice to completely rewrite world coastlines, is also losing ice.
The paper says this about the relationships of ice loss between the two parts of Antarctica:
“West Antarctica contributed 63% of the total loss (159 ± 8 Gt/y), East Antarctica 20% (51 ± 13 Gt/y), and the Peninsula 17% (42 ± 5 Gt/y) (Table 2). The mass loss from West Antarctica is three to four times larger than that from East Antarctica and the Peninsula, respectively. We find that the Antarctic Ice Sheet has been out of balance with snowfall accumulation the entire period of study, including in East Antarctica…East Antarctica is a major participant in the mass loss from Antarctica despite the recent, rapid mass loss from West Antarctica (Table 1). Our observations challenge the traditional view that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is stable and immune to change.”
After an exhaustive survey, this team found in the 1990’s, ice loss from Antarctica more than tripled from the previous decade. It’s gone up again every decade since. We also discuss the role of the ozone hole and climate change.
The new paper is “Four decades of Antarctic Ice Sheet mass balance from 19792017“, released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on January 14, 2019. PNAS gives this “Significance Statement”:
“We evaluate the state of the mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet over the last four decades using a comprehensive, precise satellite record and output products from a regional atmospheric climate model to document its impact on sea-level rise. The mass loss is dominated by enhanced glacier flow in areas closest to warm, salty, subsurface circumpolar deep water, including East Antarctica, which has been a major contributor over the entire period. The same sectors are likely to dominate sea-level rise from Antarctica in decades to come as enhanced polar westerlies push more circumpolar deep water toward the glaciers.”
Look for my follow-up interview with Antarctic specialist Dr. Richard Levy from New Zealand in an upcoming Radio Ecoshock show. There is more amazing (but frightening) new science to come.