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Escalating Ice Loss Found in Antarctica

The new findings come as the Arctic is losing ice at a dramatic rate and glaciers are in retreat across the planet. At a recent annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, Ohio State University professor Lonnie Thompson delivered a keynote lecture that described a significant speed-up in the melting of high-altitude glaciers in tropical regions, including Peru, Tibet and Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya.

Thompson, who has studied the Quelccaya glacier in the Peruvian Andes for 30 years, said that for the first half of that period, it retreated on average 20 feet per year. For the past 15 years, he said, it has retreated an average of nearly 200 feet per year.

"The information from Antarctica is consistent with what we are seeing in all other areas with glaciers -- a melting or retreat that is occurring faster than predicted," he said. "Glaciers, and especially the high-elevation tropical glaciers, are a real canary in the coal mine. They're telling us that major climatic changes are occurring."

While the phenomenon of ice loss worldwide is well documented, the dynamics in the Antarctic are probably the least understood. Glaciers and ice sheets are sometimes miles deep, and researchers do not know what might be happening at the bottom of the ice -- but it clearly is being lost along the peninsula and West Antarctic coast.


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