Global Ice Loss Increasing at Record Rate

The amount of ice that melted in the Arctic and Antarctic regions over the last 25 years would cover all of Great Britain with a sheet of ice 328 feet thick.

Meltstream cuts through Greenland ice sheet. (Credit: Ian Joughin)

(CN) — Ice is rapidly disappearing as the climate crisis continues to worsen, according to research revealed Monday.

In a study published in the scientific journal The Cryosphere, researchers from the University of Edinburgh in the U.K., University College London and data science company Earthwave discovered 28 trillion metric tons of ice were lost from 1994 to 2017. That much could cover all of Great Britain with a sheet of ice 328 feet thick.

Thomas Slater, lead author, said the findings portend the worst for those living in coastal areas. In the United States alone, nearly 40% of the population lives near coasts, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Although every region we studied lost ice, losses from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have accelerated the most,” Slater said in a statement. “The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sea-level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century.”

The research team said the rapid increase of ice loss was brought about by increased global temperatures caused by greenhouse gases such as emissions from vehicles and factories. They relied on data pulled from satellites to uncover just how much ice has melted.

“Over the past three decades there’s been a huge international effort to understand what’s happening to individual components in Earth’s ice system, revolutionized by satellites which allow us to routinely monitor the vast and inhospitable regions where ice can be found,” Slater said. “Our study is the first to combine these efforts and look at all the ice that is being lost from the entire planet.”

The scientists looked at all areas of major ice formations around the world, including 215,000 mountain glaciers, polar ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, ice shelves in Antarctica and sea ice found in the Arctic and Southern oceans.

The researchers noted that while most loss of Arctic ice is due to increasing atmospheric temperatures, the increase in ocean temperatures has contributed to the loss of the Antarctic ice sheet. They estimate 7.6 trillion metric tons of Arctic Sea ice had been lost over the past three decades and 6.5 trillion metric tons from Antarctic ice shelves.

“Sea ice loss doesn’t contribute directly to sea level rise, but it does have an indirect influence. One of the key roles of Arctic sea ice is to reflect solar radiation back into space which helps keep the Arctic cool,” said Isobel Lawrence of the University of Leeds Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling

“As the sea ice shrinks, more solar energy is being absorbed by the oceans and atmosphere, causing the Arctic to warm faster than anywhere else on the planet. Not only is this speeding up sea ice melt, it’s also exacerbating the melting of glaciers and ice sheets which causes sea levels to rise.”

The amount of ice loss has raised global sea levels by 3.5 centimeters, or nearly 1.4 inches. The researchers warn that every centimeter of sea level rise could displace about 1 million people from their homes.

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