Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Antarctic Glaciers Pass the Point of No Return

A recent report concludes that Antarctica's ice sheet has reached a tipping point from which it will not be able to recover. Scientists predict that the glaciers in the western part of Antarctica will melt and raise sea levels by four feet or 1.2 meters. These sea level rises will displace tens of millions of people from coastal areas around the world.

As explained by NASA glaciologist Eric Rignot, the glacial retreat "appears unstoppable." Rignot is the lead author of a joint NASA-University of California Irvine paper that used 40 years of satellite data and aircraft studies to come to the conclusion that Antarctic glaciers are now "past the point of no return."

The rate at which the area's ice is melting has increased 77 percent since 1973. According to researchers the melting is being precipitated by warmer ocean currents which have begun a chain reaction. Although first observed around glaciers in the Amundsen Sea-area, the effect is expected to spread to other Antarctic glaciers.

Researchers attribute the melt to global warming and a depletion of the Earth's ozone layer which has changed the winds in the area, causing more warm water to be invected toward the glaciers.

These findings are not contradicted by the news that Antarctic sea ice recently hit record levels. Sea ice forms and melts quickly, while glaciers appear to be headed for an unavoidable decline. This is a phenomenon that has not occurred for at least a half a million years.

The entire west Antarctic ice sheet has enough ice to raise the global sea level by about 16 feet. This is but the latest scientific assessment that suggests climate change is progressing faster than predicted.

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