A new study by the European Space Agency reveals that approximately 40% of Antarctica’s ice shelf has significantly reduced in size over the past 25 years, a finding described as “alarming.” The research, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that between 1997 and 2021, 71 out of 162 ice shelves in Antarctica lost mass, with 68 experiencing a statistically significant decline. This is seen as further evidence of the impact of human-caused climate change on the region. Lead author Benjamin Davison from the University of Leeds noted that the study disproved the assumption that most ice shelves would go through cycles of rapid shrinkage followed by slow growth, as almost half of them have continued to shrink with no signs of recovery.
The study found that 29 ice shelves increased in mass during the period studied, while 62 did not significantly change. However, 48 of the ice shelves lost more than 30% of their mass over 25 years. The melting of the ice shelves is triggered by ocean currents and winds on the western side of Antarctica, which push warm water beneath the shelves. These ice shelves, which surround the Antarctic continent, play a crucial role in protecting and stabilizing the region’s glaciers by slowing their flow into the ocean. The melting ice shelves also release fresh water into the ocean, which could have negative effects on ocean circulation, according to the European Space Agency.
The study’s findings come in the wake of recent reports showing record-low sea ice levels around Antarctica this winter, heightening concerns about the accelerating impact of climate change in the region.