World Losing Ice 57 Percent Faster Than In the 1990s, Study Finds

Meltwater flowing off the Nansen Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

Meltwater flowing off the Nansen Ice Shelf in Antarctica. C. YAKIWCHUCK/ESA

The world has lost an estimated 28 trillion metric tons of ice since the mid-1990s as rising global temperatures have sped up the melting of sea ice, ice sheets, and glaciers, according to a new study published in the journal The Cryosphere. The annual melt rate has jumped 57 percent in the past three decades, the research found, from 800 billion metric tons per year in the 1990s to 1.2 trillion tons today.

“It was a surprise to see such a large increase in just 30 years,” lead author Thomas Slater, a glaciologist at Leeds University in Britain, told Reuters.

Slater and his colleagues estimated the following ice losses from 1994 to 2017: 7.6 trillion metric tons of Arctic sea ice, 6.5 trillion tons from Antarctic ice shelves, 6.1 trillion tons from mountain glaciers, 3.8 trillion tons from the Greenland ice sheet, 2.5 trillion tons from the Antarctic ice sheet, and 900 billion tons from Southern Ocean sea ice. Some 58 percent of the ice loss occurred in the Northern Hemisphere, and 42 percent in the Southern.

During the same period, ice loss from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets and mountain glaciers raised the global sea level by 1.36 inches.

“The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” Slater said in a statement. “Sea level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century.”

The study did not examine permafrost, river ice, or lake ice, though the authors did write that “these elements of the cryosphere have also experienced considerable change over recent decades.”