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Antarctic Ice Loss Has Doubled, Study Finds

Update Date: May 21, 2014 11:52 AM EDT

Antarctica is now losing about 160 billion tones of ice per year to the ocean, according to the first complete assessment of Antarctic ice sheet elevation change, published recently. 

Researchers took help of the European Space Agency's CryoSat-2 satellite mission, which carries an altimeter specially designed for such tasks. 

The assessment quoted that on average West Antarctica lost 134 gigatonnes of ice, East Antarctica three gigatonnes, and the Antarctic Peninsula 23 gigatonnes in each year between 2010 and 2013 - a total loss of 159 gigatonnes each year. 

Researchers said the losses detected by the CryoSat-2 satellite are enough to raise global sea levels by 0.45 millimeters each year alone. 

"We find that ice losses continue to be most pronounced along the fast-flowing ice streams of the Amundsen Sea sector, with thinning rates of between 4 and 8 metres per year near to the grounding lines of the Pine Island, Thwaites and Smith Glaciers," lead author Dr Malcolm McMillan from the University of Leeds said, according to NDTV.

The same sector has also been long identified as the most vulnerable to changes in climate. The recent assessment further hints that its glacier might have passed a point of irreversible retreat. 

"The increased thinning we have detected in West Antarctica is a worrying development. It adds concrete evidence that dramatic changes are underway in this part of our planet, which has enough ice to raise global sea levels by more than a metre," Professor Andrew Shepherd, also of the University of Leeds, who led the study, added.

"The increasing contribution of Antarctica to sea-level rise is a global issue, and we need to use every technique available to understand where and how much ice is being lost," Professor David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey said, as quoted by the NDTV

The assessment has been published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. 

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