Ice is melting faster than ever around the planet

5 Februari 2021

Earth has been losing vast quantities of ice in recent decades and the rate of the loss around the planet is gathering pace, scientists warn.

As much as 28 trillion tons of ice was lost to warming temperatures between 1994 and 2017, which is enough ice to form a 100-meter-thick sheet covering the entire United Kingdom, according to scientists at the University of Leeds who carried out a survey of global ice loss by help of data obtained from satellites.

Worse: the rate of ice loss has been markedly on the increase since the mid-1990s, where it stood at 0.8 trillion tons a year. By 2017 the annual loss of ice globally had increased to 1.3 trillion tons, which translates into a increase of 65% within just 23 years.

Ice melt has especially been pronounced in the polar ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, according to the survey, which covered mountain glaciers worldwide, polar ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, floating ice shelves around Antarctica, and drifting sea ice in the Arctic and Southern Oceans. Arctic Sea ice afloat the sea has diminished by 7.6 trillion tons while Antarctic ice shelves have lost 6.5 trillion tons.

“Although every region we studied lost ice, losses from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have accelerated the most,” explains Thomas Slater, a research fellow at the university’s Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling.

“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,” Slater added.

The main driver of ice melt worldwide has been warming atmospheric temperatures while rising ocean temperatures have also been responsible in the Antarctic and Greenland. The further melting of sea ice raises the specter of significant rises in sea level around the world, leading to the inundation of low-lying coastal areas and dealing massive harm not only to human settlements but also to natural ecosystems.

“One of the key roles of Arctic sea ice is to reflect solar radiation back into space which helps keep the Arctic cool. 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,” says Isobel Lawrence, a research fellow at the same institution.

“Not only is this speeding up sea ice melt, [but] it’s also exacerbating the melting of glaciers and ice sheets which causes sea levels to rise,” Lawrence adds.

Another new study, published in Science Advances, has similarly revealed that the rate at which ice melt will melt will continue accelerating in Greenland, whose glaciers are being battered by climate change in the form of warmer Atlantic waters.

“We identify 74 glaciers in deep fjords with [Atlantic Waters] controlling 49% of the mass loss that retreated when warming increased undercutting by 48%. Conversely, 27 glaciers calving on shallow ridges and 24 in cold, shallow waters retreated little, contributing 15% of the loss, while 10 glaciers retreated substantially following the collapse of several ice shelves,” the scientists write.

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