West Antarctica loses the ice equivalent of Mt. Everest every two years according to a new study.
Scientists from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and NASA conducted a 21 year analysis of the glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment in West Antarctica. This area sees the most significant ice melt in all of Antarctica and is the biggest Antarctic contributor to rising sea levels.
Scientist Isabella Velicogna said, “The mass loss of these glaciers is increasing at an amazing rate.”
The news isn’t surprising. Other studies have suggested the Amundsen Sea Embayment region is seeing accelerating ice melt. Lead author Tyler Sutterly, a doctoral candidate at UCI “wanted see how all the different techniques compared.”
“The remarkable agreement among the techniques gave us confidence that we are getting this right,” Sutterly said.
So, how much ice are we talking? The research team calculated this region is shedding ice at an average rate of 83 gigatons per year. The Mt. Everest comparisons above ties into this figure. The tallest mountain in the world weighs just over 161 gigatons.
The ice loss is accelerating. It’s rising an average of 6.1 gigatons per year since 1992. More recently (starting in 2003 when measurements from all four new techniques overlapped), the ice loss is rising an average of 16.3 gigatons per year.
Researchers used various satellites to get these results including NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites, ESA’s Envisat satellite and more.
Antarctica’s ice sheet is a bit more complex than the Arctic. Antarctic sea ice has shown growth in recent years, but is offset by continental ice loss in western Antarctica. How is sea ice growing? Wind. Remember the polar vortex from last year? Antarctica is pretty much locked in a permanent one right now.
So, Antarctica is losing ice – it’s just not as cut and dry as the Arctic.
Image credits: NASA, Michael Studinger