The ESA CryoSat mission has detected significant ice loss in a usually stable Antarctic region. The data recorded by the satellite revealed how multiple glaciers along the Southern Antarctic Peninsula started shedding ice in the 2009, with no prior warning.
The findings were made by researchers from the University of Bristol in the UK. While studying the data captured by the ESA's ice mission, the team found that the glaciers have been losing ice at a rate of around 60 cubic km (14.4 cubic miles) per year. That makes them one of the largest contributors to sea level rise in Antarctica, depositing some 300 cubic km (72 cubic miles) of water into the ocean over the last six years.
Furthermore, data from NASA's GRACE mission revealed that the ice loss in the region is so significant that it has caused small changes in the planet's gravitational field.
Prior to 2009, the 750 km (466 mile)-long peninsula had shown no signs of change. It's thought that the ongoing warming of surrounding oceans is to blame for the sudden ice loss, as changes in air temperature or snowfall are not significant enough to account for the shift.
The data was recorded by the CryoSat mission's advanced radar altimeter, taking detailed measurements of ice surface height variation. The new findings take into account five years worth of observations.
This isn't the first time that CryoSat data has detected significant ice loss. Over the past six months, the mission has revealed a small decrease in overall Arctic ice volume, and rapid ice loss in the Austfonna ice cap on Norway's Nordaustlandet island.
According to the researchers, further observations of the Southern Antarctic Peninsula will need to be made before the cause of the newly observed ice loss can be pinpointed. The scientists will now work to obtain data pertaining to the geometry of local ice shelves, ice sheet thickness and more.