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New Data Shows Antarctica Ice Sheets Shrinking At Historical Rates

The Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is pictured in this undated photo.
Courtesy of NASA/OIB/Jeremy Harbeck
The Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is pictured in this undated photo.

A new survey of satellite data finds Antarctica has lost massive amounts of ice over the past few decades.

The data set compiled from 25 years of data collected by a variety of satellite measurements of the massive region is giving researchers a longer view of the crucial southern ice sheets.

New Data Shows Antarctica Ice Sheets Shrinking At Historical Rates
Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.

Researchers found the ice sheets shrank by more than 4,000 gigatons since 1994.

A gigaton is 1 billion tons.

Scientists say the main reason is a warming ocean under the ice.

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“We know roughly which parts of Antarctica are losing the floating ice and exactly when that loss rate was at the highest,” said Helen Fricker, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “And that’s important because it means we can input that information into ice-ocean levels and ice sheet levels which will then be used to predict future sea-level rise. We have a much better understanding of how the ice sheet is changing as a result of data sets like this one.”

Ice melting in Antarctica raises global sea levels, increasing the chance of flooding along the California coast.

“We are losing a lot of ice in the west of Antarctica in the Amundsen Sea and the Bellingshausen Sea, but what we can see in these data is how that signal is changing,” Fricker said. “It’s not just this constant melt rate that’s occurring there. We have some sort of overarching pattern in there which is being driven by changes in the atmosphere and the ocean.”

The new data sets are published in the current edition of the scientific journal Nature Geoscience.