Experts have discovered an ice region in Antarctica that is melting so rapidly it is affecting the Earth’s gravitaional field.
Global warming has altered the wind direction resulting in different current patterns in the sea – shifting warmer waters towards the ice.
Up until 2009 the glaciers in the Southern Antarctic Peninsula showed no sign of change, but new research has revealed ice is melting at an alarming rate.
Multiple glaciers, some up to 750km in length, have suddenly started to shed ice into the ocean at a nearly constant rate of about 55 trillion litres of water, each year.
This makes the region the second largest contributor to sea level rise in Antarctica and the ice loss shows no sign of slowing down.
The latest study has found that the ice loss in the region is so large it has caused small changes in the gravity field of the Earth.
This is due to the fact that water mass has increased and as a result the field of gravity is decreasing.
Dr Bert Wouters, who led the study, said: ‘To date, the glaciers added roughly 300 cubic km of water to the ocean.
‘That’s the equivalent of the volume of nearly 350,000 Empire State Buildings combined.
The fact that so many glaciers in such a large region suddenly started to lose ice came as a surprise to us.
‘It shows a very fast response of the ice sheet: in just a few years the dynamic regime completely shifted.’
The discovery was made by a team of scientists from the University of Bristol, who used a satellite from the European Space Agency dedicated to remote-sensing of ice.
Data from an Antarctic climate model shows that the sudden change cannot be explained by changes in snowfall or air temperature.
Instead, the team attributes the rapid ice loss to warming oceans – caused by global warming altering wind patterns.
Westerly winds circling the Antarctica have become more vigorous due to the climate warming, and push warm waters poleward, where they eat away at the glaciers.
Researchers are worried that even if the glaciers retreat, the warm water will chase them inland and melt them even more.
Dr Wouters said further research would need to be carried out to ascertain how long the thinning would continue.