26 March, 2015

New research shows volume loss from Antarctic ice shelves is accelerating

New research published today in the journal Science Express (Thursday 26 March) describes how the ice shelves around Antarctica are thinning and therefore allowing more of the ice sheet behind them to flow into the sea.

Using nearly two decades of satellite data, the team of international researchers observed an acceleration of ice loss from the continent’s ice shelves, with an increase in loss of 70% in West Antarctica over the last decade. In the Amundsen and Bellingshausen regions, some ice shelves have lost up to 18% of their thickness in less than two decades.

Professor David Vaughan, Director of Science at British Antarctic Survey (BAS) commenting on this research says, “The paper from Paolo et al., is an excellent piece of work. Previous work led by BAS in 2010 showed the rates at which the various floating ice shelves around Antarctic were thinning, but this paper takes that work forward by showing how that thinning has changed over time. This new insight will allow us to improve our understanding of how the oceans around Antarctica are driving change in the ice sheet.”

“To begin to predict with confidence how ice sheets will change in future and contribute to global sea-level rise we need to understand exactly where and why they are changing at the moment. We already know that it is changes in the ocean that are driving changes in the floating ice shelves, and that those changes are in turn driving changes in grounded ice sheet. But these new results, indicate that the pattern and rate of change in the floating ice, is complex and changing from year-to-year. These satellite results are thus highlighting the areas that require detailed exploration and investigation. The NERC iSTAR programme has recently completed its second season of investigation into one of the key areas of change shown in this new study — Pine Island Glacier.”

“Most of the pattern of change, the strong loss around West Antarctica and the marginal gain around East Antarctica are what we expected, but the rate of ice loss (especially when considered in terms of the percentage of ice lost in the last two decades is dramatic. This research is a significant step towards improving our ability to predict the future of the Antarctic ice sheet and its contribution to global sea-level rise.”
The paper: Volume loss from Antarctic ice shelves is accelerating