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Poles Have Lost Enough Ice to Form an Ice Cube 12 Miles High, Study Finds

Over the last three decades, ice lost from Greenland and Antarctica could comprise an ice cube roughly 12 miles high, new research finds.

For the study, scientists analyzed satellite surveys tracking the mass and volume of the polar ice sheets, finding that ice cover dropped every year from 1992 to 2020. The study found that the seven worst years for melting have all come in the last decade.

“Ice losses from Greenland and Antarctica have rapidly increased over the satellite record and are now a major contributor to sea level rise,” Inès Otosaka of the University of Leeds, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

While ocean warming is responsible for the bulk of sea level rise — as water heats up, it also expands, driving up sea levels — polar melting accounts for an increasing share. In the early 1990s, polar ice melt amounted to a little more than 5 percent of sea level rise. Today it accounts for more than 25 percent. The findings were published in the journal Earth System Science Data.

Thus far, polar melting has fueled around 1 inch of sea level rise, with Greenland accounting for roughly two thirds of that figure and Antarctica the remaining third. By the end of this century, the polar ice caps could raise sea levels between 6 and 10 inches, scientists say.

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