Chicago (IL) – Antarctica’s glaciers may be retreating at a much faster pace than previously believed, a new study released by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) indicates. One major ice shelf has completely disappeared and another shelf three times the size of Rhode Island has broken off since 1986, the maps reveal.
The USGS report, which has been created in collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey is the first that has been studying the Antarctica coastline. In the light of global warming and climate change, there was some expectation for bad news, but the actual report is certainly much more dramatic than anticipated.
Scientists previously knew that the Wordie Ice Shelf has been retreating, but the study documents (29 MB PDF) for the first time that it has completely disappeared. Also, the northern part of the Larsen Ice Shelf no longer exists. An area more than three times the size of the State of Rhode Island (more than 8500 square kilometers or 3280 square miles) has broken off from the Larsen Ice Shelf since 1986.
The results raised attention, as Antarctica is the earth’s largest reservoir of glacial ice, holding an estimated 91% of the planet’s glacier volume.
The scientists said that its floating ice shelves are especially sensitive to climate change, so their rapid retreat may be a forecast for losses of the land-based ice sheet on the Antarctic continent if warming continues. This could result in sea-level rise, threatening low-lying coastal communities and islands, according to the report.