Volume loss from Antarctic ice shelves is accelerating

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Science  17 Apr 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6232, pp. 327-331
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa0940

Disappearing faster around the edges

The floating ice shelves around Antarctica, which buttress ice streams from the continent and slow their discharge into the sea, are thinning at faster rates. Paolo et al. present satellite data showing that ice shelves in many regions around the edge of the continent are losing mass. This result increases concern about how fast sea level might rise as climate continues to warm. If warming continues to cause ice shelves to thin, as they have for the past couple of decades, their disappearance may allow land-based ice to collapse and melt.

Science, this issue p. 327


The floating ice shelves surrounding the Antarctic Ice Sheet restrain the grounded ice-sheet flow. Thinning of an ice shelf reduces this effect, leading to an increase in ice discharge to the ocean. Using 18 years of continuous satellite radar altimeter observations, we have computed decadal-scale changes in ice-shelf thickness around the Antarctic continent. Overall, average ice-shelf volume change accelerated from negligible loss at 25 ± 64 cubic kilometers per year for 1994–2003 to rapid loss of 310 ± 74 cubic kilometers per year for 2003–2012. West Antarctic losses increased by ~70% in the past decade, and earlier volume gain by East Antarctic ice shelves ceased. In the Amundsen and Bellingshausen regions, some ice shelves have lost up to 18% of their thickness in less than two decades.

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