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Study shows Antarctic ice loss is accelerating

Antarctic ice loss contribution to sea level
This chart shows the contribution to global sea levels due to changes in the mass balance of the Antarctic ice sheet between 1992 and 2017. (IMBIE / Planetary Visions Graphic)

An analysis of satellite data collected since 1992 suggests that ocean-driven melting has led to a tripling in the rate of ice loss from West Antarctica, from 53 billion to 159 billion metric tons per year.

The study was conducted by a group of researchers as part of the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise, or IMBIE, and published today in the journal Nature.

Estimated annual ice loss from the Antarctic Peninsula rose from 7 billion to 33 billion metric tons over the same 25-year period, due to ice shelf collapse.

East Antarctica’s ice sheet, however, is gaining mass at an average rate of 5 billion metric tons per year. The main factor behind that gain appears to be fluctuations in snowfall, researchers said.

The analysis suggests that 3 trillion tons’ worth of Antarctic ice losses have increased global sea levels by 7.6 mm (0.3 inches) since 1992, and that the increase is accelerating.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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