Over 40% of Antarctica ice shelves have shrunk since 1997, with almost half showing no signs of recovery, according to a study by researchers from the University of Leeds. The findings were published in the journal Scientific Advances.

The study, led by Dr Benjamin Davison, utilised cutting-edge satellite technology capable of penetrating the thick cloud cover that blankets Antarctica during its long polar nights. Over 100,000 satellite images were meticulously analysed to track year-by-year changes in the ice shelves, shedding light on the perilous state of these critical formations.

Between 1997 and 2021, the research found that the western part of Antarctica lost 67 trillion tonnes of ice, while the eastern part gained approximately 59 trillion tonnes. This resulted in a net loss of 7.5 trillion tonnes of ice. The western ice shelves, vulnerable to warm water, are rapidly eroding from beneath.

The loss of ice shelves in the western part of Antarctica is primarily attributed to the intrusion of warm water, which weakens and destabilises the ice. In contrast, ice shelves in the eastern part have remained stable or even grown due to colder water conditions. These ice shelves play a vital role as barriers at the end of glaciers, slowing the flow of ice into the sea. When they shrink, glaciers release more freshwater into the ocean, potentially disrupting the delicate balance of Southern Ocean currents responsible for heat and nutrient transport.

Recent research reveals that Antarctica is warming at a rate nearly double that of the rest of the world and at a pace faster than what climate crisis models had predicted. French scientists, who analysed 78 Antarctic ice cores, were able to reconstruct temperature patterns over the past 1,000 years. Their findings indicated that the warming observed across Antarctica exceeded what could be attributed to natural climate variations.