Global Warming: Ice Sheets In Greenland & Antarctica Now Melt 3X Faster

By Alexandra Burlacu | Dec 03, 2012 08:49 AM EST

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Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are disappearing three times faster compared to two decades ago, which hints to global warming, a new study found.

The new study, published on Thursday, Nov. 29, in the journal Science, is considered an extremely accurate portrayal of ice melts in the Greenland and Antarctica polar regions. The rapidly melting polar ice has caused an increase in sea levels that may pose serious issues to low coastal regions, warned the paper's authors.

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In Greenland, researchers found that the ice was melting an estimated five times the rate it was roughly two decades ago, in the mid-1990s. Melt from Greenland accounted for as much as two-thirds of the polar ice melt. Antarctica has a slower melt rate, which is why it accounted for only one-third of the world's ice melt, despite being larger in size than Greenland.

A team of 47 experts collected the published data over the span of two decades. The paper published on Thursday compiled results from 50 separate ice melt studies worldwide, and is the first of its kind. Erik Ivins of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Professor Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds led the project and coordinated the scientists involved.

According to Shepherd, the data compiled in the new study is two to three times more accurate than previous studies on melting ice and rising sea-level. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is currently using a 2007 report on this subject.

The 2007 report covers the increasing ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica, and registers an ice sheet loss within the range of the new study. What it doesn't consider, however, is a crucial question: could Antarctica be growing rather than shrinking?

Shepherd believes that without answering this question and other such, scientists would not be able to determine for certain how the ice sheets have changed.

"This will give the wider climate science community greater confidence in ice losses and lead to improved mode predictions of future sea-level rise," said Shepherd.

According to the team of researchers, advancements in satellite technology and coordinated efforts within the international scientific community will eventually allow for more accurate determinations and predictions of how global warming will affect the climate.

"The success of this venture is due to the cooperation of the international scientific community, and due to the provision of precise satellite sensors by our space agencies," said Shepherd. "Without these efforts, we would not be in a position to tell people with confidence how the Earth's ice sheets have changed, and to end the uncertainty that has existed for many years."

Meanwhile, Julie Brigham Grette, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, believes the recent Hurricane Sandy further demonstrates how incredibly important it is to have a solid understanding of the rising sea-level.

Though it may seem that ice melt and the resulting rise in sea-level is responsible for intense hurricanes such as Sandy, Grette said the real problem is global warming. Increased temperatures from trapped greenhouse gases are causing oceans to warm and expand, explained Grette, expecting sea level to move up the coast by at least 40 inches over the next 90 years.

A number of international organizations have already started discussing possible impacts of rising sea levels on low-lying cities, including the possibility of widespread population displacement. The scientific community said the new study will lay the groundwork for more effective predictive models that could help policy makers in their decision-making.

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