Study finds Antarctic glaciers losing ice at fastest rate for 5,500 yrs

Hand-out photo taken on 8 January 2011 and received on 12 June 2018 via the Nature website shows summer clouds swirling in around the Staccato Peaks of Alexander Island, Antarctic Peninsula. Antarctica has lost a staggering three trillion tonnes of ice since 1992, according to a landmark study published on 13 June 2018 that suggests the frozen continent could redraw Earth`s coastlines if global warming continues uncheckedAFP

At the current rate of retreat the vast glaciers, which extend deep into the heart of the ice sheet, could contribute as much as 3.4 meters to global sea-level rise over the next several centuries.

Antarctica is covered by two huge ice masses: the East and West Antarctic Ice Sheets, which feed many individual glaciers. Because of the warming climate, the WAIS has been thinning at accelerated rates over the past few decades.

Within the ice sheet, the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers are particularly vulnerable to global warming and are already contributing to rises in sea level.

Now, a new study led by the University of Maine and the British Antarctic Survey, including academics from Imperial College London, has measured the rate of local sea-level change - an indirect way to measure ice loss - around these particularly vulnerable glaciers.

They found that the glaciers have begun retreating at a rate not seen in the last 5,500 years. With areas of 192,000 km2 (nearly the size of the island of Great Britain) and 162,300 km2 respectively, the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers have the potential to cause large rises in global sea level.

Co-author Dr Dylan Rood of Imperial's Department of Earth Science and Engineering said: "We reveal that although these vulnerable glaciers were relatively stable during the past few millennia, their current rate of retreat is accelerating and already raising global sea level.

"These currently elevated rates of ice melting may signal that those vital arteries from the heart of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet have been ruptured, leading to accelerating flow into the ocean that is potentially disastrous for future global sea level in a warming world. Is it too late to stop the bleeding?"