Volume loss from Antarctic ice shelves is accelerating

Evolution of the rate of thickness change in the Antarctic Peninsula.

Evolution of the rate of thickness change in the Antarctic Peninsula.

TitleVolume loss from Antarctic ice shelves is accelerating
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsPaolo FS, Fricker HA, Padman L
Date Published2015/03

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 eighteen 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 km3 per year for 1994-2003 to rapid loss of 310 ± 74 km3 per year for 2003-2012. West Antarctic losses increased by 70% in the last 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.


Science Editor's Summary: "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.

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