A once-steadfast group of Antarctic glaciers has nosedived into rapid decline.
Glaciers along the Southern Antarctic Peninsula remained roughly stable between 2003 and 2009. New satellite observations reveal that the region suddenly destabilized in 2009 and is now shedding around 56 billion metric tons of ice each year, enough water to raise sea levels by roughly 0.16 millimeters.
The researchers believe warm ocean water melted the underside of the ice, undermining the region’s stability and triggering the abrupt decline. Even if this warm water went away, the now destabilized region would continue to shrink until reaching a new equilibrium, the researchers report in the May 22 Science.