A formerly stable region of Antarctica has been melting at a rapid rate since 2009. The Southern Antarctic Peninsula has been shedding ice over the last five years, based on data collected from CyroStat-2, a European Space Agency satellite launched to measure ice at the South Pole.
According to the numbers, the 750km coastal region has shed some 300 cubic km of water into the ocean. That’s about 4m per year of loss, equating to about 55 trillion liters of water, which is about the same volume as 350,000 Empire State Buildings.
The ice is melting due to an increase in water temperatures over the last few decades. Most of the glaciers in Antarctica feed into floating ice shelves that keep it from going directly into the ocean. The westerly winds that blow around Antarctica have gotten stronger in recent decades, and with them come warmer water pushed south by currents which eat away at the floating ice. This southern flow of warm water is due in part to ozone depletion and climate change, so the problem is, at its core, one caused by human activity.
And a problem it is, too. As those ice sheets melt, the ice coming off glaciers on the surface will melt directly into the water. Worse, as the sea level rises, warm water will melt interior glaciers even faster. The result will be a precipitous rise in global sea levels, a problem that most nations are ill equipped to deal with at the moment.
At current, the researchers need more data to figure out just how long this thinning might last. That data includes glacier flow speeds, ocean topography, a more detailed geography of the ice shelves and their thickness. At the moment though, the melting shows no sign of slowing down.