Friday, 14 August 2009

One of Antarctica's largest glaciers is thinning four times faster than it was ten years ago, researchers have warned.

This startling report on the rapid breakup of the Antarctic ice mass suggests that worries about National Debt/National Income ratios, horrendous as they are, should not overwhelm the attention and focus of policy makers.

Satellite measurements of the Pine Island glacier in West Antarctica have revealed that the surface of the ice is dropping at a rate of up to 16 metres a year and since 1994, has lowered by as much as 90 metres.

Fifteen years ago, it was estimated that the rate of ice melt would see the glacier disappear within 600 years. Now, the data suggests it could be gone in little more than 100.

Professor Andrew Shepherd of Leeds University, one of the authors of a report in the publication Geophysical Research Letters, said that the melting from the centre of the glacier would add about three centimetres to global sea levels.

"But the ice trapped behind it is about 20-30cm of sea level rise and as soon as we destabilise or remove the middle of the glacier we don't know really know what's going to happen to the ice behind it," he told BBC News.

"This is unprecedented in this area of Antarctica. We've known that it's been out of balance for some time, but nothing in the natural world is lost at an accelerating exponential rate like this glacier."

The alarming revelations came as scientists working in the Arctic reported evidence of a dramatic change in the levels of sea ice and large cracks appearing in the large Petermann glacier.

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