Antarctic glaciers slipping seaward

Glaciers in the Antarctic are melting faster than previously thought, which could lead to an unprecedented rise in sea levels, the Associated Press reported, citing conclusions by thousands of scientists for the 2007-2008 International Polar Year (IPY). The western part of the continent, not just the Antarctic Peninsula, is warming up, they say.


Previously, most of the warming was thought to occur on the peninsula — a narrow stretch pointing toward South America. However, satellite data and automated weather stations indicate that the warming “also extends all the way down to what is called west Antarctica”, said Colin Summerhayes, a British member of IPY’s steering committee. “That’s unusual and unexpected.”


The biggest western Antarctic glacier, the Pine Island Glacier, is moving 40% faster than it was in the 1970s, discharging water and ice more rapidly into the ocean, Summerhayes said; the Smith Glacier is moving 83% faster than it did in 1992. Summerhayes said the glaciers were slipping into the sea faster because the floating ice shelf that would stop them is melting.


All the glaciers in the area together lose a total of around 114 billion tons per year, Summerhayes said, because the discharge is much greater than the new snowfall. “That’s equivalent to the current mass loss from the whole of the Greenland ice sheet,” he explained. “We didn’t realise it was moving that fast.”


During the International Polar Year, thousands of scientists from more than 60 countries engaged in intense Arctic and Antarctic research.


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