International studies have shown that the Antarctic ice sheet surface may shrink to a critical level within 10 years. Climate change is to blame for this phenomenon. Worse still, we may not already be able to stop the rapid melting of the ice.
The point at which there will be no turning back when the amount of ice in Antarctica declines, will come sooner than previously thought, the authors of the latest study say. They add that perhaps even with a sharp change in our habits and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, we may no longer be able to improve the situation and stop the melting of glaciers. The consequences can be serious, both for the destruction of the habitats of the animals that live in Antarctica and for the increase in sea levels around the globe.
20 thousand years
To get a clearer vision of the future, scientists had to look back at the past. By observing the ice cores, they were able to investigate how the Antarctic landscape has undergone over the past 20,000 years.
“Our research has revealed that in the past, when the ice sheet began to retreat, the loss of ice mass was very rapid, within a decade or two,” said palaeoclimatologist Zoe Thomas from the University of New South Wales in Australia.
By combining data on Antarctic ice history with computer models of ice sheet behavior, the team identified eight phases of ice sheet retreat over the past millennia. In each case, the destabilization of the ice sheet took place over a dozen or so years.
The results of the analyzes were visualized by satellite photos taken over a period of about 40 years. The pace at which the Antarctic ice sheet is shrinking is clearly visible.
The study also showed that each of the eight phases exhibited the same pattern of rising water levels.
Point of no return
Scientists say the patterns detected in the study of Antarctica’s past may also be relevant for current changes. As they add, perhaps we are already in the middle of a tipping point from which there may be no turning back.
– If one decade is enough to shake such a system, it is quite scary. If the Antarctic ice sheet behaves as it did in the past in the near future, we must now experience a tipping point, said Thomas.
The researchers add that evidence for such tipping points can be found in previously analyzed cores in the region, and the latest research also coincides with earlier models of ice loss in the region.
Our findings are in line with the growing body of evidence suggesting that accelerating Antarctic ice mass loss in recent decades may mark the beginning of an irreversible period of ice sheet retreat and significant global sea level rise, concluded geophysicist Michael Weber of the University of Bonn in Germany.
Main photo source: NASA