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Antarctica Is Melting Like Never Before

A new paper has emerged with fresh data from NASA providing a visual of Antarctica’s rapidly melting ice.

A new paper has emerged with fresh data from NASA providing a visual of Antarctica’s rapidly melting ice.

The recent data is presented in a paper published in the journal Science on April 30, 2020. Data from space imparts more detailed pictures of Antarctica’s ice, how and where the ice is accumulating or melting rapidly.

The data fill in any questions as to where the ice goes when it melts. The concern is this could happen at a quicker and quicker pace, contributing to rising sea levels that threaten people, cities, and countries around the world.

Mass loss from Antarctica (2003–2019). (Top) Mass change for Antarctica. (Bottom) Mass changes at the grounding line. Highest mass loss rates are in West Antarctica and Wilkes Land, East Antarctica. Map and grounding line mass change have been smoothed with a 35 km median filter for improved visualization.

The information will aid researchers as they try to assimilate and comprehend the largest driver of ice loss in Antarctica, the thinning of floating ice shelves that allows more ice to flow from the interior to the ocean. The study is the first to be published using data from ICESat-2. Many more studies are planned.

Many have documented, and researchers have known, that the continent is losing mass overall as the climate changes. Massive glacier caving’s continue in the north and have been documented by scientists and even featured in film.

The data show that the continent is gaining more ice in some areas, like parts of East Antarctica. In other areas, it is losing ice, and more rapidly. Quick melting is occurring in West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula.

The East Antarctica ice growth is presumed to be from extra precipitation in the region, which would match up with expected results of climate change. “While we can’t say that these changes are related to contemporary climate change, we can say that these are the patterns of change we expect to see in a warming world,” Ben Smith, a study author who is a glaciologist at the University of Washington, said.

The New York Times reports, “Helen A. Fricker, an author of the paper, said that scientists have tried to study the link between thinning shelves and what is called grounded ice, but have been hampered because most observations were of one area or the other, and made at different times. ‘Now we’ve got it all on the same map, which is a really powerful thing,’ said Dr. Fricker, a glaciologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif.”

The Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, launched in 2018. It is now an integral part of NASA’s Earth Observing System. The New York Times reports that it replaced a satellite that had provided data from 2003 to 2009. “ICESat-2 uses a laser altimeter, which fires pulses of photons split into six beams toward the Earth’s surface 300 miles below. Of the trillions of photons in each pulse, only a handful of reflected ones are detected back at the satellite. Extremely precise measurement of these photons’ travel times provides surface elevation data that is accurate to within a few inches.”

“‘It’s not like any instrument that we’ve had in space before,’ said another of the authors, Alex S. Gardner, a glaciologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The resolution is so high that it can detect rifts and other small features of the ice surface, he said.”

 
 
 
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Written By

Cynthia Shahan started writing after previously doing research and publishing work on natural birth practices. (Several unrelated publications) She is a licensed health care provider. She studied and practiced both Waldorf education, and Montessori education, mother of four unconditionally loving spirits.

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