A new study conducted by NASA and University of California, Irvine (UCI) shows the Antarctic glaciers now melt three times faster than they did ten years ago. NASA surveyed Antarctica’s fastest melting area – Amundsen Sea Embayment – over a 21-year period and found out that it lost about 83 gigatons of solid ice since 1992. Everest, the highest mountain on Earth, weighs around 161 gigatons.
These findings were published in “Geophysical Research Letters” journal on December 2.
The Amundsen Sea Embayment glaciers in West Antarctica melt faster than any other region in the South Pole and they are contributing with the most important amounts of water to the world’s sea level rise. The new study is the first to use and reconcile 4 types of measurement techniques. Measurements were conducted by NASA through its satellites, altimetry radars, laser radars, and budget analyses.
“Previous studies had suggested that this region is starting to change very dramatically since the 1990s, and we wanted to see how all the different techniques compared. The remarkable agreement among the techniques gave us confidence that we are getting this right,”
Tyler Sutterley, researcher at UCI, said.
Isabella Velicogna, coauthor of the study, said the mass loss of Antarctic glaciers was increasing at “an amazing rate.” Velicogna added that most of these glaciers’ mass was lost in ten years time at a “way faster” rate.
The scientists got to these conclusions by measuring the mass balance of the glaciers melting through the Amundsen Sea Embayment. Glacier mass balance is way of showing how much ice a glacier gains and loses from consecutive periods of accumulating or melting snow or from gaining ice from nearby icebergs.
Researchers started using the mass balance measuring techniques in 2003 and stopped in 2009. These techniques were able to provide exact melting data from 1992 to 2013.
Scientists were eager to find especially two sets of data – the total amount of ice loss and the rates of loss. Although glaciers lost ice throughout the entire period, since 1992 the rate of ice loss accelerated to about 16.1 gigatons per year. The total amount of loss reached 83 gigatons per years. Compared to Mount Everest, this means that every two years the Amundsen Sea Embayment glaciers lose weight equivalent to Mt. Everest. And this is happening since 1992.
During 2009–2013, the melt rate increased to 16.3 gigatons per year – so glaciers melt three times faster the average rate calculated since 1992. The total amount of loss is now getting close to 84 gigatons.