Meltwater Is Rising Sea Levels In The Antarctic Faster Than The Rest Of The World

Icicles formed by the melting of a glacier in west Antarctica. The melt is rapid and has been accelerating, injecting greater quantities of freshwater into the ocean and raising sea levels. Image: Mike Meredith

Fresh water from melting glaciers has caused the sea level around the coast of Antarctica to rise by 2 centimetres more than the global average of 6 centimetres.

Researchers at the University of Southampton detected the rapid rise in sea-level by studying satellite scans of a region which spans more than a million square kilometres.

The melting of the Antarctic ice sheet and the thinning of floating ice shelves has contributed an excess of around 350 gigatonnes of freshwater to the surrounding ocean.

“Freshwater is less dense than salt water and so in regions where an excess of freshwater has accumulated we expect a localised rise in sea level,” says Craig Rye, lead author of the paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The researchers also conducted computer simulations of the effect of melting glaciers on the Antarctic Ocean.

“The computer model supports our theory that the sea-level rise we see in our satellite data is almost entirely caused by freshening (a reduction in the salinity of the water) from the melting of the ice sheet and its fringing ice shelves,” says Craig.

“The interaction between air, sea and ice in these seas is central to the stability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet and global sea levels, as well as other environmental processes, such as the generation of Antarctic bottom water, which cools and ventilates much of the global ocean abyss.”

The latest research shows the ice melt in Antarctica is unstoppable.

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