Scientists have discovered Antarctic glaciers were moving towards the sea “100 percent” faster than previously thought, which will have major consequences for sea levels. Researchers found surface meltwater was seeping through the ice and beneath the glaciers of Antarctica, which was accelerating the glaciers descent to the sea. By using imagery and data from satellites alongside regional climate modelling, scientists at the University of Sheffield found some glaciers were moving 100 percent faster – up to 400 metres per year.
However, with temperatures set to continue to rise in the future thanks to climate change, this is likely to speed up the glaciers descent towards water even more, which will exacerbate the rising sea levels problem, according to the research published in the journal Nature Communications.
Dr Jeremy Ely, Independent Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Geography and author of the study, said: “Our research shows for the first time that surface meltwater is getting beneath glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula – causing short bursts of sliding towards the sea 100 percent faster than normal.
“As atmospheric temperatures continue to rise, we expect to see more surface meltwater than ever, so such behaviour may become more common in Antarctica.
“It’s crucial that this factor is considered in models of future sea level rise, so we can prepare for a world with fewer and smaller glaciers.”
Pete Tuckett, who made the discovery while studying for his Masters in Polar and Alpine Change at the University of Sheffield, said: “The direct link between surface melting and glacier flow rates has been well documented in other regions of the world, but this is the first time we have seen this coupling anywhere in Antarctica.
“Given that atmospheric temperatures, and hence surface melt rates, in Antarctica are predicted to increase, this discovery could have significant implications for future rates of sea level rise.”
Previous research has shown that Antarctica is losing a staggering 200 billion tonnes a year of ice.
Not only does the ice caps melting lead to rising sea levels, but it will contribute to more natural disasters.
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Andrew Shepherd, a professor of earth observation at the University of Leeds and lead author of an earlier study published in the journal Nature, said: “Around Brooklyn you get flooding once a year or so, but if you raise sea level by 15 centimetres then that’s going to happen 20 times a year.”
According to Google’s interactive map, FireTree, a two metre rise could ruin the Netherlands, with most of the country submerged.
In the UK, the north of Scotland would suffer a similar fate and large swathes of the east of England would become uninhabitable.
Low lying New York would also be heavily damaged amid rapidly rising sea levels.