The Heat Is Online

Pace of Antarctic Glacial Melt Alarms Scientists

Antarctica glaciers melting at alarming rate, warn international team of scientists

The Daily Mail (U.K.), Feb. 25,  2009

Antarctic glaciers are melting faster than previously thought, which could lead to an unprecedented rise in sea levels, scientists said.

Previously most of the warming was thought to occur on the narrow stretch pointing toward South America.

However, a report by thousands of scientists for the 2007-2008 International Polar Year said the western part of the continent was warming up as well as the Antarctic Peninsula.

Colin Summerhayes, director of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research said the findings were 'unusual and unexpected.'

During the International Polar Year, thousands of scientists from more than 60 countries engaged in intense Arctic and Antarctic research over the past two southern summer seasons - on the ice, at sea, and via icebreaker, submarine and surveillance satellite.
The biggest west Antarctic glacier, the Pine Island Glacier, is moving 40 per cent faster than it was in the 1970s, discharging water and ice more rapidly into the ocean, Mr.  Summerhayes said.

The Smith Glacier, also in west Antarctica, is moving 83 per cent faster than it did in 1992, he said.

All the glaciers in the area together lose a total of around 103 billion tons per year because the discharge is much greater than the new snowfall, he said.

'That's equivalent to the current mass loss from the whole of the Greenland ice sheet,' he said.

'We didn't realize it was moving that fast.'

The glaciers' discharge is making a significant contribution to the rise in sea levels.

Mr. Summerhayes said the glaciers were slipping into the sea faster because the floating ice shelf that would stop them - usually 650 to 1000 feet thick - is melting.

Sea levels will rise faster than predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he said.

An IPCC panel in 2007 predicted warmer temperatures could raise sea levels by 30 to 50 inches this century, which could flood low-lying areas and force millions to flee.

The IPY researchers found that the southern ocean around Antarctica has warmed about 0.2 degrees Celsius in the past decade, double the average warming of the rest of the Earth's oceans over the past 30 years.