Ice in Antarctica and Greenland is disappearing faster and may drive sea levels higher than predicted this century, according to leaked United Nations documents.
Greenland’s ice added six times more to sea levels in the decade through 2011 than in the previous 10 years, according to a draft of the UN’s most comprehensive study on climate change. Antarctica had a fivefold increase, and the UN is raising its forecast for how much the two ice sheets will add to Earth’s oceans by 2100.
The changes in the planet’s coldest areas are a “very good indicator” of a warming planet, according to Walt Meier, a research scientist with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
“It’s an early warning system,” Meier said by phone from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “When you think about a couple of degrees of warming, in the U.K. or U.S., it’s not something that would be too noticeable, whereas in an area of snow and ice, it can have a huge effect. With sea ice, minus 1 to plus 1 is the difference between skating on the ice and swimming in the ocean.”