In the study, glaciologists from the University of California, Irvine, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Netherlands' Utrecht University used aerial photographs, satellite measurements and computer models to determine how fast the ice on southernmost continent and the site of the South Pole has been melting since 1979 in 176 of Antarctica's geologic structural basins, where ice drains into the Southern Ocean.
The study found that ice loss in Antarctica was 40 gigatons annually (a gigaton is 1 billion tons) between 1979 and 1990. From 2009 to 2017, around 252 gigatons of ice mass were lost annually.
In addition, the results revealed that the rate of melting is especially high in basins where the edges of ice sheets are exposed to warm, salty water known as circumpolar deep water.
"During the entire period, the mass loss concentrated in areas closest to warm, salty, subsurface, circumpolar deep water (CDW), that is, consistent with enhanced polar westerlies pushing CDW toward Antarctica to melt its floating ice shelves, destabilize the glaciers and raise sea level," the study explained, also noting that the total ice mass loss has raised global ocean levels by 14 millimeters since 1979.
According to lead author Eric Rignot, an Earth system scientist at UCL, the results "are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak."
"As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-meter sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries," he recently told Science Daily.
In addition, the study revealed that most of the loss of ice mass has been occuring in East Antarctica, which lies on the Indian Ocean side of the continent, separated from West Antarctica by the Transantarctic Mountains.
"The Wilkes Land sector of East Antarctica has, overall, always been an important participant in the mass loss, even as far back as the 1980s, as our research has shown," Rignot told Science Daily.
"This region is probably more sensitive to climate [change] than has traditionally been assumed, and that's important to know, because it holds even more ice than West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula together," he added.
Rignot did not immediately respond to Sputnik's request for information.