More than 3,000 billion tonnes of ice have been lost in the Antarctic Region over a 25-year period, which shows the disaster ahead in the coming years, according to a new study.
The scientists calculated the loss of ice sheet in the Amundsen Sea Embayment, which is one of the fastest regions losing ice sheet in Antarctica. If all the lost ice was piled on London, it would stand over 2 km tall - or 7.4 times the height of the Shard. If it were to cover Manhattan, it would stand at 61 km – or 137 Empire State Buildings placed on top of one another.
The research, led by Dr Benjamin Davison at the University of Leeds calculated the “mass balance” of the Amundsen Sea Embayment. This describes the balance between mass of snow and ice gain due to snowfall and mass lost through calving, where icebergs form at the end of a glacier and drift out to sea.
Twenty major glaciers form the Amundsen Sea Embayment in West Antarctica, which is more than four times the size of the UK, and they play a key role in contributing to the level of the world’s oceans.
When calving happens faster than the ice is replaced by snowfall, then the Embayment loses mass overall and contributes to global sea level rise. Similarly, when snowfall supply drops, the Embayment can lose mass overall and contribute to sea level rise.
The results show that West Antarctica saw a net decline of 3,331 billion tonnes of ice between 1996 and 2021, contributing over nine millimetres to global sea levels. Changes in ocean temperature and currents are thought to have been the most important factors driving the loss of ice.
Dr Davison said: “The 20 glaciers in West Antarctica have lost an awful lot of ice over the last quarter of a century and there is no sign that the process is going to reverse anytime soon although there were periods where the rate of mass loss did ease slightly.
“Scientists are monitoring what is happening in the Amundsen Sea Embayment because of the crucial role it plays in sea-level rise. If ocean levels were to rise significantly in future years, there are communities around the world who would experience extreme flooding.”