Antarctica melting twice as fast previous records amid warnings millions could be left homeless

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Thwaites Glacier. Photo: Nasa

The Antarctic ice sheet is melting twice as fast as the last time it was recorded, according to stark new images taken by the European Space Agency.

Over three years of observations from the ESA's CyroSat-2 satellite show that the Antarctic ice sheet is now losing 159 billion tonnes of ice each year – twice as much as when it was last surveyed in 2010.

The polar ice sheets are a major contributor to the rise in global sea levels, and these newly measured losses from Antarctica alone are enough to raise global sea levels by 0.45 mm each year.

Read: Scientists hope to discover what is driving the big Antartic melt

Areas of ice loss in the Antarctica. Credit: European Space Agency

These latest findings by a team of scientists from the UK’s Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling show that the pattern of imbalance continues to be dominated by glaciers thinning in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica.

Read: Experts call for action to stop global warming damage getting 'out of control'

The European Space Agency's CRYOSAT-2 Credit: European Space Agency.

Between 2010 and 2013, West Antarctica, East Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula lost 134, 3 and 23 billion tonnes of ice each year, respectively.

The average rate of ice thinning in West Antarctica has increased compared to previous measurements, and this area’s yearly loss is now one third more than measured over the five years before CryoSat’s launch.

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This area has long been identified as the most vulnerable to changes in climate. Recent assessments say its glaciers may have passed a point of irreversible retreat.

Dr Malcolm McMillan from the University of Leeds, author of the latest study, said;

We find that ice losses continue to be most pronounced along the fast-flowing ice streams of the Amundsen Sea sector, with thinning rates of 4-8 m per year near to the grounding lines – where the ice streams lift up off the land and begin to float out over the ocean – of the Pine Island, Thwaites and Smith Glaciers.

Last week, glaciologist Eric Rignot, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said: "The collapse of this sector of West Antarctica appears to be unstoppable," and this latest batch of images from CryoSat-2 supports this theory. The new images appear to confirm what scientists have been fearing, as the report said:

This area has long been identified as the most vulnerable to changes in climate.

Recent assessments say its glaciers may have passed a point of irreversible retreat.