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ANTARCTIC GLACIERS' FAST MELTING RISKS SEA-LEVEL RISE
March 1, 2009
BEIJING - Antarctica glaciers are melting faster than before and across a
much wider area, thereby threatening to raise sea levels worldwide and
forcing migration of people to low-lying areas, according to scientists.
Earlier, scientists believed the melting was confined to the Antarctic
Peninsula, a narrow tongue of land pointing toward South America. But
satellite data and automated weather stations now indicate it is more
Scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Durham University and
Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI)
collected boulders deposited by three glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment
-- a region currently the focus of intense international scientific
attention as it is changing faster than anywhere else on the West Antarctic
Ice Sheet's (WAIS) and it has the potential to raise sea-level by around 1.5
Analysis of the boulders has enabled the scientists to start constructing a
long-term picture of glacier behavior in the region. By the end of the
century, the accelerated melting could cause sea levels to climb by 3 to 5
feet (about 0.91 to 1.52 meters) -- levels substantially higher than
predicted by a major scientific group two years ago.
Scientists also said the ice shelves that hold the glaciers back from the
sea are also weakening.
In Washington, as part of an overall update on global warming, top
researchers Wednesday sounded a similar warning to the U.S. Senate about
rising temperatures in the Antarctic. The head of the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change, a group set up by the United Nations, told
lawmakers on the Environment and Public Works Committee that Earth has about
six more years at current rates of carbon dioxide pollution before it is
locked into a future of severe global warming.
For years, the continent at the bottom of the world seemed to be the only
place on the planet not experiencing climate change. Previous research
indicated that temperatures across much of Antarctica were staying the same
or slightly cooling.
The big surprise after conducting the research by scientists was exactly how
much glaciers are melting in western Antarctica, a vast land mass on the
Pacific Ocean side of the continent that is next to the South Pole and
includes the Antarctic Peninsula.
The biggest of the western glaciers, the Pine Island Glacier, is moving 40
percent faster than it was in the 1970s, discharging water and ice more
rapidly into the ocean, said Summerhayes, a member of International Polar
Year's steering committee.
The Smith Glacier, also in west Antarctica, is moving 83 percent faster than
in 1992, he said.
The glaciers are slipping into the sea faster because the floating ice shelf
that would normally stop them -- usually 650 to 980 feet (about 198 to 299
meters) thick -- is melting. And the glaciers' discharge is making a
significant contribution to increasing sea levels.
Some people ³fear that this is the first signs of an incipient collapse of
the west Antarctic ice sheet,² Summerhayes said. ³If the west Antarctica
sheet collapses, then we're looking at a sea level rise of between 3 feet 4
inches (about 1.01 meters), to nearly 5 feet (about 1.52 meters).²
Together, all the glaciers in west Antarctica are losing a total of around
114 billion tons per year because the melting is much greater than the new
snowfall, he said.
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Published by David Sunfellow
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