The researchers used measurements collected by the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite to carry out the first complete assessment of changes in the elevation of the Antarctic ice sheet. The satellite enabled a fivefold increase in the sampling of the coastal regions in which most of the ice loss is concentrated compared to previous studies.
Overall, the loss has been dominated by glacial thinning in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica. On average, between 2010 and 2013, West Antarctica lost 134 gigatonnes of ice per year, East Antarctica three gigatonnes and the Antarctic Peninsula 23 gigatonnes. The average rate of ice thinning in West Antarctica has also increased, with the region now losing almost a third more ice each year than it did during 2005–10.
‘The increased thinning we have detected in West Antarctica is a worrying development,’ said Professor Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds, who led the study. ‘It adds concrete evidence that dramatic changes are underway in this part of our planet, which has enough ice to raise global sea levels by more than a metre. The challenge is to use this evidence to test and improve the predictive skill of climate models.’
This story was published in the July 2014 edition of Geographical Magazine