WEST Antarctica is warming almost twice as fast as previously believed, adding to worries of a thaw, a new study showed yesterday.
Annual average temperatures at the Byrd research station in West Antarctica have risen 2.4 degrees Celsius since the 1950s, one of the fastest gains on the planet and three times the global average, it said.
The unexpectedly large increase adds to fears the ice sheet is vulnerable to thawing. West Antarctica holds enough ice to raise world sea levels by at least 3.3 metres.
“The western part of the ice sheet is experiencing nearly twice as much warming as previously thought,” Ohio State University said. The warming “raises further concerns about the future contribution of Antarctica to sea-level rise,” it added.
Higher summer temperatures raised risks of a surface melt of ice and snow even though most of Antarctica is in a year-round deep freeze.
Low-lying nations from Bangladesh to Tuvalu are especially vulnerable to sea-level rise, as are coastal cities from London to Buenos Aires. Sea levels have risen by about 20cm in the past century.
The United Nations’ panel of climate experts projects that sea levels will rise by between 18 and 59cm this century, and by more if a thaw of Greenland and Antarctica accelerates, because of global warming caused by human activities.
The rise in temperatures in the remote region was comparable to that on the Antarctic Peninsula to the north, which snakes up towards South America, according to the US-based experts writing in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Parts of the northern hemisphere have also warmed at similarly fast rates.