Ice is melting at a faster rate in the Antarctic Peninsula than at any time in the past 1000 years, and ten times more than it was 600 years ago, according to a new study by the Australian National University and the British Antarctic Survey, published in Nature Geoscience.
According to lead researcher Dr Nerilie Abram:
This new ice core record shows that even small changes in temperature can result in large increases in the amount of melting in places where summer temperatures are near to zero. This has important implications for ice stability and sea level rise in a warming climate.
As Al Jazeera reports Sunday, temperatures across the Antarctic Peninsula, the region focused upon in the study, have risen sharply specifically over the past fifty years, "making this the most rapidly warming region in the Southern Hemisphere."
Summer melting at the ice-core site today is now at a higher level than at any other time over at least the last 1000 years. And whilst temperatures at this site increased gradually in phases over many hundreds of years, most of the intensification of melting has happened since the mid-20th Century.
Warming in the Antarctic Peninsula comes to over five times the global average and is comparable to rapidly warming regions of the Arctic.
Steff Gaulter at Al Jazeera reports that "around 25,000 km2 of ice have been lost from ten floating ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula. This is particularly significant as it takes a long time to replenish snow and ice in this part of the world."
It is widely held that Antarctica is not at risk of dangerous melting because it often replenishes its ice loss and tends to expand in size. However, according to the study, the rate of ice that is lost on the Antarctic Peninsula region now far exceeds that which is replenished each year.
Gaulter adds: "The global significance of this is difficult to assess. However, the warming of the Antarctic Peninsula is amongst the highest seen anywhere on Earth in recent times, and is a reminder of the rationality of climate change that can be expected in the future."