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Antarctica is melting more than six times faster than it did in the 1980s, a new study shows.
Scientists used aerial photographs, satellite measurements and computer models to track how fast the southern-most continent has been melting since 1979 in 176 individual basins. They found the ice loss to be accelerating dramatically — a key indicator of human-caused climate change.
Since 2009, Antarctica has lost almost 278 billion tons (252 billion metric tons) of ice per year, the new study found. In the 1980s, it was losing 44 billion tons (40 billion metric tons) a year.
The recent melting rate is 15 percent higher than what a study found last year.
Eric Rignot, a University of California, Irvine, ice scientist, was the lead author on the new study in Monday's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He said the big difference is that his satellite-based study found East Antarctica, which used to be considered stable, is losing 56 billion tons (51 billion metric tons) of ice a year. Last year's study, which took several teams' work into consideration, found little to no loss in East Antarctica recently and gains in the past.
Melting in West Antarctica and the Antarctica Peninsula account for about four-fifths of the ice loss. East Antarctica's melting "increases the risk of multiple meter (more than 10 feet) sea level rise over the next century or so," Rignot said.
Richard Alley, a Pennsylvania State University scientist not involved in Rignot's study, called it "really good science."