Glaciers in the region of Getz, in western Antarctica, are accelerating the speed of gliding to the ocean, according to a study published in Nature Communications that analyzed 25 years of satellite observations.
Research conducted by the University of Leeds, UK, was based on data from the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel-1 and CryoSat missions and shows that, between 1994 and 2018, the region’s 14 glaciers accelerated, on average, landslide by almost 25% and three by more than 44%.
The results also indicate that glaciers have lost 315 giga tons of ice, causing the global average sea level to rise 0.9 mm, equivalent to 126 million Olympic-sized pools of water.
According to the European Space Agency, the study will “help to determine whether these glaciers could collapse in the coming decades and how this would affect the future rise in global sea level”.
The region of Getz, in Antarctica, is so remote that humans have never stepped most of it, said the research director, Heather Selly, of the University of Leeds, but it is possible to monitor what happens there via satellites.
The “high rates of increase” in glacier speed, together with the decrease in ice thickness, confirm that the Getz basin is in “dynamic imbalance”, which means that it is losing more ice than it gains from snowfalls, explained the scientist.
Through a combination of observations and mathematical models, the research team observed the biggest change in the central region of Getz, with a glacier that slides 391 meters a year faster in 2018 than in 1994.
The researcher also pointed out that this is “a substantial change, since it now flows at a rate of 669 meters per year, an increase of 59% in just two and a half decades”.
Another author of the study, Anna Hogg, stressed that “a consistent and extensive sample of both the speed of the ice and the temperature of the ocean is needed to make progress in our understanding of the dynamics of ice loss, which now represents 98.8% of the Antarctica’s contribution to rising sea levels ”.
By examining 25 years of ocean measurements, the team was able to show complex and annual variations in ocean temperatures and its results suggest that “the warming of ocean waters is primarily responsible for this dynamic imbalance”.