Chart of the Day: The South Pole is Shrinking Fast

Here are the latest results of the ongoing IMBIE team’s measurement of Antarctic ice sheet loss due to global warming:

In the 12 years between 1992 and 2004, the Antarctic lost about 50 gigatonnes of ice per year. In the 13 years between 2004 and 2017, it lost about 160 gigatonnes per year. In the past five years, that’s accelerated to over 200 gigatonnes per year. Chris Mooney has more:

Antarctica’s ice sheet is melting at a rapidly increasing rate, now pouring more than 200 billion tons of ice into the ocean annually and raising sea levels a half millimeter every year, a team of 80 scientists reported Wednesday.

….“The detailed record shows an acceleration, starting around 2002,” said Beata Csatho, one of the study authors and a glaciologist at the University at Buffalo, in an email. Csatho noted that comparing the first and last five year periods in the record reveals an even steeper acceleration. “Actually, if you compare 1997-2002 to 2012-2017, the increase is even larger, a factor of more than 5!!

Half a millimeter doesn’t sound like much. But if you triple it and triple it again, that’s about five millimeters per year. Over the next few decades this suggests that Antarctic ice melt could raise sea level by several inches—more than enough to turn the storm surges from hurricanes into routine catastrophes. Our kids are likely to be living in a world where it’s common to have a dozen Hurricane Harveys and Marias per year—and those will just be the normal hurricanes. Every few years we’ll have a really big one that will likely kill tens of thousands of people depending on where it hits.

The world doesn’t seem willing to make the sacrifices that would allow our kids to avoid that future. That means we’d better get working on those cheap carbon capture ideas and risky geoengineering schemes. We’re going to need them pretty soon.


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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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