Antarctic Sea Levels Are Rising Thanks to Melting Glaciers

Sep 01, 2014 07:01 AM EDT | Matt Mercuro

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A new study published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience revealed that fresh water from melting glaciers is the reason sea-level around the coast of Antarctica is rising.

For the study, which was conducted by the University of Southampton, researchers explored the sea-level around the coast of Antarctica. They determined that the sea-level was 2 cm more than the global average of 6 cm, according to a release issued by the University of Southampton.

Lead author of the study, Craig Rye, said that freshwater was less dense than salt water. They had expected a localized rise in sea levels in places where an excess of freshwater had accumulated.

"Freshwater is less dense than salt water and so in regions where an excess of freshwater has accumulated we expect a localized rise in sea level," said Rye, from the University of Southampton, UK.

Rye added that the interaction between sea, ice, and air in these seas was important to the stability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet and global sea levels, along with other environmental processes.

"Accelerating discharge from the Antarctic icesheet has had a pronounced and widespread impact on the adjacent sub-polar seas over the past two decades," said the study's authors.

Other environmental processes include the generation of Antarctic bottom water, which cools and ventilates a lot of the global ocean abyss, according to the release.

The researchers also found out that the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet and the thinning of floating ice shelves contributed an excess of approximately 350 gigatonnes of freshwater to the surrounding ocean. This led to a reduction in the salinity of the surrounding oceans that had been affected by ship-based studies of the water.

"We can estimate the amount of water that wind is pushing on to the continental shelf, and show with some certainty that it is very unlikely that this wind forcing is causing the sea level rise," Rye said to BBC News.

"And because we can model the freshwater forcing, and the fact that this is so much more like what we see in the real world, we can come to the confident conclusion that the signal is driven by freshwater forcing."

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