New Research Says Ice Loss on Polar Caps Increased Sixfold

The kilometres-thick ice sheets atop land masses at the planet's extremities sloughed off more than 6.4 trillion tonnes of mass from 1992 to 2017

Polar ice sheets are melting six times faster than in 1990s

Both are losing ice six times quicker than in the 1990s, and if that continues sea level rise will increase an extra 17 centimeters by 2100 - in line with the worst-case scenario set by United Nations experts.

For the new studies, a team of 89 scientists assessed ice loss data from 11 satellites that have been monitoring Antarctica and Greenland since the early 1990s.

The survey states that Greenland lost 3.8 trillion tonnes of ice calculated from the year 1992. These figures mean that ice loss in these regions is now on track with the worst-case climate warming scenario as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The combined rate of ice loss has increased six-fold in just three decades, from 81 billion tons per year in the 1990s to 475 billion tons per year in the 2010s.

"Today, the ice sheets contribute about a third of all sea-level rise, whereas in the 1990s, their contribution was actually pretty small at about 5%". This is driving sea level rise unprecedented in the modern era and could mean annual flooding by 2100 in regions now home to some 400 million people.

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It is expected that the Arctic heatwave experienced a year ago will be worse that than of 2011 which saw 552 billion tonnes of ice lost from the polar ice sheets, setting a world record.

As a result of the study, scientists determined that Antarctica and Greenland lost 6.4 trillion tons of ice between 1992 and 2017.

Co-leader of the study, Professor Andrew Shepherd, from the University of Leeds, said: "Three-quarters of the ice loss is because the waters around Greenland and Antarctica are too warm".

"We can not know whether it is too late to stop climate change". If humanity beats the odds and attains carbon neutrality by the middle of the century, the rise in sea level will probably be covered at 43 centimeters.

"The IMBIE Team's reconciled estimate of Greenland and Antarctic ice loss is timely for the IPCC".

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While less visible than climate-enhanced extreme weather events such as hurricanes, sea level rise may ultimately prove the most devastating of global warming impacts.

These other models observe more of the ice sheets when compared to other satellites because they fly by particular orbits that are very close to both the north and south poles.

Nearly all the ice shedding from Antarctica, as well as half of that from Greenland, have been caused by warming ocean water accelerating the movement of glaciers toward the sea. This enormous amount of loss in the mass of the ice sheets is enough to increase the global sea levels by 10.6 millimetres. Scientists have concluded that around half of the ice lost from Greenland, and almost all of it lost from Antarctica is a direct result of the rising temperature of the ocean water, which has been caused by global warming.

IMBIE is supported by ESA's EO Science for Society programme and ESA's Climate Change Initiative, which generates accurate and long-term satellite-derived datasets for 21 Essential Climate Variables to characterise the evolution of the Earth system.

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