Activist Mya-Rose Craig, 18, sits on an ice floe in the middle of Arctic Ocean demanding action on climate crisis. (REUTERS File)
Activist Mya-Rose Craig, 18, sits on an ice floe in the middle of Arctic Ocean demanding action on climate crisis. (REUTERS File)

Earth’s ice loss now in worst-case zone

  • Altogether, an estimated 28 trillion metric tons of ice have melted away from the world’s sea ice, ice sheets and glaciers since the mid-1990s.
Agencies, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JAN 26, 2021 05:45 AM IST

Earth’s ice is melting faster today than in the mid-1990s, according to new research that shows the loss is now following the worst-case scenarios for climate change, which has nudged global temperatures ever higher.

Altogether, an estimated 28 trillion metric tons of ice have melted away from the world’s sea ice, ice sheets and glaciers since the mid-1990s. Annually, the melt rate is now about 57% faster than it was three decades ago, the researchers say in a study published on Monday in the journal The Cryosphere.

“The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sea-level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century,” said researcher Thomas Slater of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, University of Leeds, according to a statement by the university.

News agency Reuters quoted Slater as adding: “It was a surprise to see such a large increase in just 30 years”.

While the situation is clear to those depending on mountain glaciers for drinking water, or relying on winter sea ice to protect coastal homes from storms, the world’s ice melt has begun to grab attention far from frozen regions, Slater noted.

Aside from being captivated by the beauty of polar regions, “people do recognise that, although the ice is far away, the effects of the melting will be felt by them,” he said.

The melting of land ice — on Antarctica, Greenland and mountain glaciers — added enough water to the ocean during the three-decade time period to raise the average global sea level by 3.5 centimeters.

Ice loss from mountain glaciers accounted for 22% of the annual ice loss totals, which is noteworthy considering it accounts for only about 1% of all land ice atop land, Slater said.

Across the Arctic, sea ice is also shrinking to new summertime lows. Last year saw the second-lowest sea ice extent in more than 40 years of satellite monitoring. As sea ice vanishes, it exposes dark water which absorbs solar radiation, rather than reflecting it back out of the atmosphere. This phenomenon, known as Arctic amplification, boosts regional temperatures even further.

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