Date of Article: August 14, 2009
Photo (Left) : In this Nov. 9, 2007 file photo, a scene of melting icebergs is shown in Antarctica. Satellite images of Antarctica have shown one of the continent's largest glaciers has been declining at a rapid rate. (Roberto Candia, file/Associated Press)
One of the largest glaciers in Antarctica is thinning at a rate four-times faster than just a decade ago, researchers said Friday.
Researchers at the University of Leeds, writing in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, said the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica is thinning at a rate of up to 16 metres a year and has lowered as much as 90 metres in the last decade.
At its current rate of thinning, the glacier could disappear in a century. Previous predictions, based on the glacier's rate of decline a decade ago, said the glacier would likely disappear in 600 years.
The Pine Island Glacier is the largest glacier in West Antarctica, and at 175,000 square kilometres is roughly the size of the province of New Brunswick and the island of Newfoundland combined.
Located in one of the more inaccessible regions of Antarctica, it has only recently become the subject of observations from scientists. Prof. Andrew Shepherd, a co-author of the research at the University of Leeds, said the new estimates were based on continuous satellite measurements over the past 15 years.
Shepherd suggested warming waters around the continent are likely responsible for the thinning of the glacier. The resulting ice melt could have implications on estimates of sea level rise around the world, he said.
"Because the Pine Island Glacier contains enough ice to almost double the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's] best estimate of 21st century sea level rise, the manner in which the glacier will respond to the accelerated thinning is a matter of great concern " he said in a statement.