Ice experts have long known that Antarctica is losing ice at the margins of its vast ice sheets, where the frozen continent meets the sea — presumably, they thought, from icebergs breaking off and floating away.
According to a report published in Science, however, more than half the ice loss is coming from warming ocean waters, which are melting the ice from underneath.
“This has profound implications for our understanding of interactions between Antarctica and climate change,” said lead author Eric Rignot, of the University of California, Irvine, in a press release.
More than half of Antarctic’s ice loss is coming from warming ocean waters, which are melting the ice from underneath. Credit: NASA
Those interactions are crucial because Antarctica holds enough ice to raise sea level by a catastrophic 180 feet if it all melted or slid into the sea. That won’t happen anytime soon. But even without significant Antarctic melting, climate scientists project that the oceans, which have already risen by an average of 8 inches since 1900 as a result of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, could go up by another 2 feet or more by the end of this century. Combined with the storm surges that accompany hurricanes and other major coastal storms, the risks to lives and property will continue to grow.