West Antarctic Ice Sheets Warming Twice as Fast as Previously ThoughtS

Considering 2012 was the hottest year on record pretty much anywhere, this should come as no surprise but: over the past 50 years, temperatures in West Antarctica have risen almost twice as much as scientists previously believed. According to a new paper released by Nature Geoscience, the average annual temperature at the Byrd research center in central West Antarctica has increased by 4.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1958, which is not only twice as much as previous estimates but also three times the average change worldwide, making the area "one of the fastest-warming regions on earth."

As you might expect, this doesn't bode well for the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet (or, in scientist talk, WAIS), which is now facing danger from two directions.

"The fact that temperatures are rising in the summer means there's a prospect of WAIS not only being melted from the bottom as we know it is today, but in the future it looks probable that it will be melting from the top as well," said Dr. Bromwich, one of the paper's authors.

Bromwich was sure to emphasize that the warming is, as it stands now, not enough to immediately accelerate the decay of WAIS. "We're talking decades into the future, I think," Dr. Bromwich said.

But if you feel like panicking, there's this: NBC News points out that West Antarctica contains enough ice to raise sea levels by 11 feet if it ever entirely melts. Even at the current pace, sea levels are rising at a frightening pace.

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 20 centimeters (8 inches) in the past century.

The United Nations panel of climate experts projects that sea levels will rise by between 18 and 59 cms (7-24 inches) this century, and by more if a thaw of Greenland and Antarctica accelerates, due to global warming caused by human activities.

Meanwhile, a certain unprofitable conservative magazine is soliciting donations to battle "global-warming extremists going all-out to silence critics." A worthwhile cause if there ever was one.

[Image via AP]