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Antarctic ice melting 10% faster than thought

Published: 6:30PM Tuesday November 24, 2009 Source: ONE News

As icebergs head for New Zealand, scientists have discovered Antarctica is in worse shape than first thought.

It has been known for years that the Antarctic's western ice sheet is being swallowed into the sea.

Now new research shows the Antarctic's eastern ice sheet, long thought to be unaffected by climate change, is melting 10% faster than it can produce ice.

"The water coming in under west Antarctica is actually warmer by about one degree so it's actually melting the base of the ice shelf," says Lou Sanson, Antarctica New Zealand CEO.

Scientists from the University of Texas measured the total ice mass of Antarctica using satellites and found east Antarctica has been shedding 57 billion tonnes a year since 2006.

"It's a bit of a blow for the sceptics I would think, it's long been thought that the east Antarctic ice sheet was gaining mass rather than losing it," says John McCrystal.

East Antarctica is the world's largest ice shelf and if the melt continues rising sea levels are closer than originally forecast.

Scientist's first thought that in the next 100 years sea levels would rise up to 50 cm, but at this rate it could be up to a metre.

"Anyone living adjacent to the ocean has got to think about how high they are," says McCrystal.

Evidence of Antarctica's crumbling is just 50km off Stewart Island. A large iceberg is coming towards New Zealand.

"I think the change going on in Antarctica is so significant that there's nothing we can do in Antarctica except understand what's happening," says Sanson.