Hundreds of Glaciers Melting Faster in Antarctica

(by National Geographic) - Hundreds of glaciers in Antarctica are melting faster as the region’s climate warms, a new satellite study has revealed.

As the rivers of ice flow into the ocean, they could cause global sea levels to rise higher and faster than scientists had previously predicted. Satellite images of more than 300 glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula showed that they were flowing some 12 percent faster in 2003 than they were in 1993 (see an interactive map of Antarctica).

“It is increasingly apparent that glaciers can be sensitive on much shorter time scales than traditionally thought,” said lead author Hamish Pritchard of the British Antarctic Survey.

“What is telling about [the study results] is that so many glaciers are behaving in such a similar way, and so quickly,” he added.

“This is strong evidence for a big change in climate on a regional scale such as has been observed.”

Pritchard noted that the Antarctic Peninsula’s annual average air temperature has risen 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) since 1950, while near-surface ocean waters have warmed 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius).

Eighty-seven percent of the peninsula’s glaciers have been retreating during the same period, he added.

The Antarctic findings may not be unique—they are similar to recent reports from coastal Greenland.

Will the “High Seas” Get Higher?

An Antarctic glacial meltdown could have dramatic impacts for ocean level rise.

The latest estimates for sea level rise cited by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are based largely on the melting of nonpolar glaciers and the expansion of warmer ocean waters.

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