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Thinning Five Times Faster Than Just Two Decades Ago, Study Shows Antarctic Ice Melting at Terrifying Rate

"The speed of drawing down ice from an ice sheet used to be spoken of in geological timescales, but that has now been replaced by people's lifetimes."

A new study by researchers at Leeds University found that ice sheets in Antarctica are thinning five times as quickly as in the 1990s. (Photo: Natalie Tapson/flickr/cc)

New research released Thursday revealed that ice sheets in Antarctica are thinning even more rapidly than scientists previously believed, with ice melting at five times the rate it did in the 1990s.

"Seems like humans are genuinely getting close to unlocking the “Make Earth Unlivable” achievement in their species career. Big come down from the moon landing." —Murtaza Mohammad Hussain, journalist

Some areas, researchers at Leeds University in the U.K. reported, are now about 328 feet (100 meters) thinner than they were less than three decades ago—putting the planet in danger of a major sea level rise which could wipe out coastal cities.

The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, also detailed how scientists are accustomed to observing such changes in glaciers over geological time periods—not portions of people's lifetimes.

"From a standing start in the 1990s, thinning has spread inland progressively over the past 25 years—that is rapid in glaciological terms," lead author Andy Shepherd told The Guardian. "The speed of drawing down ice from an ice sheet used to be spoken of in geological timescales, but that has now been replaced by people's lifetimes."

The phenomenon was described by one observer as "the shallowing of deep time" on social media.

Much of the ice loss is taking place in the West Antarctic ice sheet, a quarter of which is now considered "unstable" by scientists. The loss of the entire ice sheet would mean a global sea level rise of about 16 feet—wiping out coastal cities around the world.

"Seems like humans are genuinely getting close to unlocking the 'Make Earth Unlivable' achievement in their species career," wrote Intercept journalist Murtaza Mohammad Hussain in response to the research.

The study was completed by comparing weather data and hundreds of millions of satellite measurements taken between 1992 and 2017.

In Europe, ahead of Parliament elections in which voters across the continent will go to the polls later this month, members of the European Green Party pointed to the study as the latest evidence that voters should support candidates with concrete plans to combat the climate crisis by sharply reducing global reliance on fossil fuels and shifting toward renewable energy sources.

"We need urgent international policy to immediately address the ecological and climate emergency," tweeted Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green Party in Britain.

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