Over 160 billion tons of ice sheets and floes are being lost by the frozen continent towards the South Pole each year. These semi-solid ice blocks separate from the mainland of Antarctica and float out to sea and later on dissolve to become water. The water of course raises the levels of the coastal waters along the other populated regions towards the north.
The European mission known as the Cryosat space probe is responsible for measuring such data. According to its radar reports, the icy continent is being fragmented at an alarming rate due to global warming. And the melting of these ice sheets will raise sea levels globally by 0.43 mm per annum.
This is enough to overwhelm many regions within a few years. Since the past three years or so, this monitoring and tracking has gone on unabated. The results have been published in a scientific research journal and what they show is that there lies trouble ahead for mankind unless some ways of living are changed.
All regions of Antartica are losing ice at a tremendous speed. And it seems the point of no return has been reached. Even now some precautionary practices may be implemented but still it will be a case of too little too late. The altimeter that Cryosat uses measures the height of the ice sheets on the continent.
"CryoSat has given us a new understanding of how Antarctica has changed over the last three years and allowed us to survey almost the entire continent," explained lead author Dr Malcolm McMillan from the NERC Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at Leeds University, UK.
"We find that ice losses continue to be most pronounced in West Antarctica, along the fast-flowing ice streams that drain into the Amundsen Sea. In East Antarctica, the ice sheet remained roughly in balance, with no net loss or gain over the three-year period," he told BBC News.
The Antarctic continent may be subdivided into the West, East and Peninsular sectors. These three major sectors of the Antarctic continent are losing 134 billion tons, three billion tons and 23 billion tons respectively.
And parts of the large mass of ice are melting at such quick rates that the future looks scary just by taking a look at the statistics. The stage of irreversibility of action has been reached. It would take nothing short of a scientific miracle to forestall this environmental hazard in the future.
Professor Andrew Shepherd, also of the University of Leeds, who led the study, said: "Thanks to its novel instrument design and to its near-polar orbit, CryoSat allows us to survey coastal and high-latitude regions of Antarctica that were beyond the capability of past altimeter missions, and it seems that these regions are crucial for determining the overall imbalance."
"Although we are fortunate to now have, in CryoSat-2, a routine capability to monitor the polar ice sheets, the increased thinning we have detected in West Antarctica is a worrying development. It adds concrete evidence that dramatic changes are underway in this part of our planet, which has enough ice to raise global sea levels by more than a metre. The challenge is to use this evidence to test and improve the predictive skill of climate models."
Professor David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey said: "The increasing contribution of Antarctica to sea-level rise is a global issue, and we need to use every technique available to understand where and how much ice is being lost. Through some very clever technical improvements, McMillan and his colleagues have produced the best maps of Antarctic ice-loss we have ever had. Prediction of the rate of future global sea-level rise must be begin with a thorough understanding of current changes in the ice sheets – this study puts us exactly where we need to be."