Melting ice sheets in Greenland, Antarctica increasing pace of sea level rise

The Ice Sheets Are Melting Faster Than Ever, Raising Sea Levels Even More

Thanks to melting ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, sea levels have witnessed a rise over past decade or so.

Scientists at the American Geophysical Union meeting past year said that Antarctica may be melting faster than previously thought, though Greenland has caused three times more sea level rise, comparatively.

Anny Cazenave, director of Earth science at the International Space Science Institute in France, says that sea level rise is a more accurate gauge of climate change in action. Episodes like volcanic eruptions can create variability: the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 decreased global mean sea level, for example.

The global sea level is not rising at a steady rate, it is accelerating a little every year, according to a new assessment based on 25 years of satellite data. It found that if nothing changes, numerous world's coastal cities will be at least partially underwater by 2100.

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Researchers at University of Colorado at Boulder in the U.S. calculate that the rate is increasing by about 0.08 millimetres per year (mm/year)-which could mean an annual rate of sea level rise of 10 mm/year, or even more-by 2100.

Continuous emissions of greenhouse gases are warming the Earth's atmosphere and oceans and melting its ice, causing the rate of sea level rise to increase. The data confirms scientists' computer simulations and reflects predictions from the United Nations, which releases climate change reports regularly. Extreme water levels, such as high tides and surges from strong storms, would be made exponentially worse. And the process has moved up its speed, and over three-fourths of this acceleration since 1993 is caused by ice sheets melting in Greenland and Antarctica. First, warmer water expands, and this "thermal expansion" of the ocean has contributed about half of the 2.8 inches (7 centimeters) of global mean sea level rise we've seen over the last 25 years, Nerem said. In the new study, the researchers assessed the extension of the volume of the ocean due to the heating, the amount of melting ice and the effect of volcanoes.

Theirs is a troubling finding when considering the recent rapid ice loss in the ice sheets. Our extrapolation assumes that sea level continues to change in the future as it has over the last 25 years. However, Nerem adds "given the large changes we are seeing in the ice sheets today, that's not likely" and the acceleration will increase as Earth continues to heat up and ice sheets melt.

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