A new study is suggesting that Earth’s ice is melting faster today than in the mid-1990s, a dangerous acceleration that is now in line with the worst-case climate change scenarios often warned by scientists over the past decade.
The research, conducted by a team led by the University of Leeds and published in the journal The Cryosphere, revealed that a total of twenty-eight trillion metric tons of ice was lost between 1994 and 2017.
In the 1990s, the planet’s ice was melting at a rate of about seven hundred sixty billion tons per year—but in the 2010s, that figure surged 60 percent to an average of 1.2 trillion tons each year.
“The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” lead author Thomas Slater, a research fellow at the University of Leeds’ Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, said in a statement.
“Although every region we studied lost ice, losses from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have accelerated the most.”
According to recent data revealed by the Ice Sheet Model Intercomparison Project, led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, if emissions continue at their current pace, the eventual melting of Greenland and Antarctica’s ice sheets could together contribute more than fifteen inches of global sea-level rise.
In arriving at the new eye-opening data, the researchers tapped into information from the European Space Agency’s network of satellites and analyzed more than two hundred thousand mountain glaciers around the globe.
For the year 2017, that information helped the team discover that the planet lost 1.3 trillion tons of ice—equivalent to a hundred-meter-thick sheet of ice able to cover the entirety of the United Kingdom.
“One of the key roles of Arctic sea ice is to reflect solar radiation back into space, which helps keep the Arctic cool,” Isobel Lawrence, a researcher at the Leeds’ Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, said in a statement.
“As the sea ice shrinks, more solar energy is being absorbed by the oceans and atmosphere, causing the Arctic to warm faster than anywhere else on the planet.”
The global atmospheric temperature has risen by about 1.1 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times—but in the Arctic, the warming rate over the past three decades has been more than twice the global average.
The study further revealed that roughly 3 percent of all the energy trapped within the Earth’s systems because of climate change has gone toward the melting of the ice.
“That’s like more than ten thousand ‘Back to the Future’ lightning strikes per second of energy melting ice around-the-clock since 1994,” William Colgan, an ice-sheet expert at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, told the Washington Post. “That is just a bonkers amount of energy.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.