Loss of Antarctic ice has soared by 75 per cent in just 10 years

A A A

Parts of the ice sheets covering Antarctica are melting faster than predicted, with the net loss of ice probably accelerating in recent years because of global warming, a study has found.

A satellite survey between 1996 and 2006 found that the net loss of ice from Antarctica rose by about 75 per cent as the movement of glaciers towards the sea speeded up.

Scientists estimate that that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet lost about 132 billion tons of ice in 2006, compared with a loss of 83 billion tons in 1996. In addition, the Antarctic peninsula lost about 60 billion tons of ice in 2006.

"To put these figures into perspective, 4 billion tons of ice is enough to provide drinking water for the whole UK population for one year," said Professor Jonathan Bamber, of the University of Bristol. "We think the glaciers of the Antarctic are moving faster to the sea. The computer models of future sea-level rise have not really taken this into account."

Sea levels are estimated to have risen by 1.8mm a year on average during the 20th century, but data from the past decade or so suggest that the average rise is now about 3.4 mm per year.

Computer models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which predict that sea levels will rise by no more than about 50cm by 2100, are based largely on the stability of the Antarctic ice sheets. But many scientists now believe this forecast is too restrained. "I agree with a number of scientists who feel the IPCC is likely to have underestimated the upper bound of predicted sea-level rise by the end of the century – 50 cm is probably too conservative," Professor Bamber added.

There are two key factors in estimating the net loss of Antarctic ice. The first is the flow of glaciers towards the sea; the second is the build-up of snow over the vast landmass of the frozen continent. The IPCC models imply that global warming will increase the moisture content of the atmosphere and so may actually increase snowfall over Antarctica, much of which is too cold to be affected by rising global temperatures. This would suggest a net build-up of ice. However, Professor Bamber believes the IPCC's models have not taken into account the complex, dynamic interaction between the ocean and the ice shelves of West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula, which are warmer than East Antarctica.

Eric Rignot, who led the latest study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, said the findings indicated a rapid loss of ice to the sea rather than a net gain. "We have determined that the loss is increasing with time, quite rapidly at 75 per cent in ten years," Dr Rignot said. "We have also established that most of this loss, if not its entirety, is caused by glacier acceleration. The IPCC focussed on the surface mass balance component. We find this component is not indicative of the true mass balance."

The acceleration in ice loss over the past 10 years could increase in coming decades, he added. "As some of these glaciers reach deeper beds, their speeds could double or triple, in which case the contribution to sea-level rise from Antarctica could increase quite significantly beyond what it is now. Many people suspect Antarctic ice to be immune from changes. We are finding this is not the case.

"The future is the big question. The potential exists for ice speed to increase two or three times, which will result in a doubling of the mass deficit from Antarctica."

Melting into history

* July 1985: UK scientists detect hole in ozone layer

* January 1995: Larsen A ice shelf disintegrates

* July 1998: Evidence suggests future collapse of West Antarctic ice sheet

* March 2000: An iceberg 183 miles long and 22 miles wide breaks adrift

* February 2002: Larsen B ice shelf collapses

* October 2003: World's largest iceberg splits

* March 2006: Research shows shrinking ice has raised sea levels by 1.2mm

* September 2007: Sea ice covering Antarctica melts back to record low

Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect