Antarctica is losing land ice at a rate of 159 billion tons a year, based on observations from CryoSat, Europe's ice-monitoring satellite.
That figure is nearly 60 billion tons more than previously measured based on data from 2005 to 2010 -- and means an rise in sea level rise worldwide of about .45 mm a year. The findings were presented by a team of scientists from the UK's Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling.
Recent studies from NASA and the University of Washington report that the glaciers in West Antarctica are beginning an unstoppable collapse. The new measurements show West Antarctica alone shed about 134 billion tons of ice each year from 2010-2013. East Antarctica lost 3 billion tons and and the Antarctic Peninsula 23 billion tons each year over that time.
"We find that ice losses continue to be most pronounced along the fast-flowing ice streams of the Amundsen Sea sector, with thinning rates of 4-8 m per year near to the grounding lines -- where the ice streams lift up off the land and begin to float out over the ocean -- of the Pine Island, Thwaites and Smith Glaciers," said Dr Malcolm McMillan from the University of Leeds, UK, and lead author of the study, in a statement.
The retreat of the ice sheet on West Antarctica could lead to sea-level rise of 3-4 feet, over hundreds of years. That would have a destabilizing effect on the rest of Antarctica, which holds enough fresh water to raise sea level by 10 to 13 feet.
"The increased thinning we have detected in West Antarctica is a worrying development," said Andrew Shepherd from the University of Leeds, UK, who led the study. "It adds concrete evidence that dramatic changes are under way in this part of our planet."
CryoSat-2 was launched in 2010 to to study the Earth's "cryosphere" -- the global ice cover --which acts as our climate's refrigerator. The mission studies how ice responds to climate change and how ice cover changes affect our planet as a whole.