Global ice loss from all measured locations on the planet is occurring at the worst-case scenario pace. Between 1994 and 2017 the rate of ice loss has increased by 65% according to an article published on January 25 by Dr. Thomas Slater et al from the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling.
The paper, published in the European Geophysics Journal Cryosphere, is produced using the most detailed satellite measurements including 215,000 mountain glaciers spread around the planet, the polar ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, the ice shelves floating around Antarctica, and sea ice drifting in the Arctic and Southern Oceans.
Although there has been ice loss at all locations, the Greenland ice sheet and the Antarctic have seen the most accelerated losses. Between 1994 and 2017, the Earth has lost a staggering 28 trillion tonnes of ice. To put this into perspective, it amounts to covering the UK under a layer of ice 100 meters thick, or closer to home, doing the same to most of the Great Lakes.
The biggest losses, the study confirms are from Arctic sea ice and Antarctic sea shelves. While neither of these is a significant contributor to sea-level rise, they both expose seawater. This can accelerate a climate feedback mechanism call albedo loss. Albedo is essentially the measure of how well a surface reflects all spectra of sunlight; ranging from 0, a ‘black’ or absorbing surface to 1, a ‘white’ or fully reflective surface. Floating ice in the Arctic and Antarctic oceans reflects sunlight, inhibiting the absorption of sunlight which would heat the ocean water.
Dr. Slater states: “The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sea-level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century.” The decline in landed glaciers has severe consequences for large populations from Europe to the Asian continent and Indian sub-continent.
Glacial melt poses a risk in the form of downstream flooding and soil displacement. Additionally, many major river systems in the northern hemisphere derive much of their water from glacial origins. Report co-author and Ph.D. researcher Inès Otosaka, from Leeds’ Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, said: “As well as contributing to global mean sea level rise, mountain glaciers are also critical as a freshwater resource for local communities.
The study emphasizes that no single factor is driving this accelerated ice loss; rather factors combine depending on location.
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