More snow falling on Antarctica puts pressure on ice sheets, pushing them into the ocean, and actually increasing ice loss and sea levels, a new study suggests.
This is on top of Antarctica’s already out-of-control melting: It has lost 1,320 gigatons of ice since 1992.
But because global warming allows the air to hold more moisture, precipitation increases in some areas. This precipitation, in the form of snow is increasing ice mass in certain areas of Antarctica.
Some researchers have suggested that increased snowfall over the ice sheet could slow the ice loss.
While it’s true that some areas of the ice sheet are indeed gaining mass (and so has the centre of Greenland, where ice depth has been steadily increasing about two inches per year over the past decade) this doesn’t mean it will help stop the melt.
“We now know that snowfall in Antarctica will not save us from sea-level rise,” says study researcher Anders Levermann, of Potsdam University and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. Their study was published today, Dec. 12, in the journal Nature.
Using simulations the researchers were able to model the effect of the increased precipitation. They found that future ice loss is increased up to three times due to the weight of the extra snow. The snow is placing a massive amount of pressure on top the ice sheets, breaking them, and pushing them out to sea where they melt into the world’s oceans even faster.
“Sea level is rising — that is a fact. Now we need to understand how quickly we have to adapt our coastal infrastructure; and that depends on how much CO2 we keep emitting into the atmosphere,” Levermann said in a press release from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
This could have an impact on the reliability of our sea-level rise predictions, which impact several low-lying areas of coastal land and could put some islands underwater. The most recent projections by the United Nations’ climate change panel report that sea levels are rising at an annual rate of 0.12 inches per year. This most recent study may have to increase sea level rise predictions which have already been increased since the IPCC calculated the rise at 0.08 inches per year in 2007.