Ice Sheets Melting At A Faster Rate, Scientists Say

Michael Söze

Scientists say that polar ice sheets have begun melting at an accelerated rate, contributing to a nearly half-inch rise in global sea levels over the period of a decade.

When comparing data from 20 years ago, scientists noticed that the rate in which the ice caps are melting began increasing rapidly starting in the late 90s.

"In the 1990s, not very much was happening," says Benjamin Smith of the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory. "Sometime around 1999, the ice sheets started losing more mass, and probably have been losing mass more rapidly over time since then."

The study, billed as being one of the most accurate climate change studies to date, attempts to reconcile inconsistencies of previous measurements of sea level rise as well as looking into the rise in sea levels and their relation to melting ice sheets.

"We are just beginning an observational record for ice," says co-author Ian Joughin, a glaciologist in the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory. "This creates a new long-term data set that will increase in importance as new measurements are made."

"It allows us to make some firm conclusions," added Andrew Shepherd, a professor of earth observation at the University of Leeds in England and a lead author of the study. "It wasn't clear if Antarctica was gaining or losing ice. Now we can say with confidence it is losing ice."

Although the study offers a more precise measurement of the rise in sea level due to melting ice sheets and other factors, researchers admit that there's still more work to be done in understanding climate change.