28 trillion tonnes of ice has melted in 23 years due to climate change

Between 1994 and 2017 a ‘staggering’ 28 trillion tonnes of ice disappeared from the surface of the Earth, according to a new report. Ongoing loss of ice, which is a direct consequence of manmade climate change, will lead to catastrophic sea level rises.

This is the first time that anyone has looked at all the ice that is disappearing from the entire planet. By studying satellite data of glaciers, mountains and ice sheets, the UK researchers found the rate of ice loss has risen by 57% since the 1990s, from 0.8 to 1.2 trillion tonnes per year.

Over the study period, they observed 7.6 trillion tonnes of Arctic sea ice have disappeared, along with 6.5 trillion tonnes of ice from Antarctic ice shelves, 6.2 trillion tonnes from mountain glaciers, and 3.8 trillion tonnes from the Greenland ice sheet.

The findings match the worst-case-scenario predictions outlined by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

As white ice disappears and the dark water and soil beneath are exposed, the Earth loses its ability to reflect solar radiation into space. Instead, this radiation is absorbed and contributes to yet more warming of the planet.

And then there’s rising sea levels. According to the study’s authors, the loss of ground ice caused a global increase in sea levels of about 35 millimetres (1.4 inches) during the 23-year study period. Melting glaciers and ice sheets, say the researchers, could cause sea levels to rise dramatically, reaching 1 meter by the end of the century.

“To put that in context, every centimetre of sea level rise means about a million people will be displaced from their low-lying homelands,” according to report author Professor Andy Shepherd, director of Leeds University’s Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling.

The findings come a week after researchers at Ohio State University discovered that Greenland’s ice sheet might have passed a point of no return.

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