For two decades, scientists have kept a close watch on a vast, icebound corner of West Antarctica that is undergoing a historic thaw. Climate experts have predicted that, centuries from now, the region’s mile-thick ice sheet could collapse and raise sea levels as much as 11 feet.
Now, new evidence is causing concern that the collapse could happen faster than anyone thought. New scientific studies this week have shed light on the speed and the mechanics of West Antarctic melting, documenting an acceleration that, if it continues, could have major effects on coastal cities worldwide.
Twin papers this week show that the rate of ice loss from West Antarctica is increasing — with the acceleration particularly pronounced in the past decade — and also why this is happening: Warmer ocean waters are pushing up from below and bathing the base of the ice sheet.
The findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that the effects of climate change are outpacing scientific predictions, driven in part, scientists say, by soaring levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.