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Scientists: Glaciers melt faster than before

ANTARCTIC glaciers are melting faster across a much wider area than anyone ever thought before, scientists have said.

One said that could make sea levels rise to unprecedented levels - more than 1 to 1.5 meters higher than they are today. Those levels would be substantially higher than predicted by a major scientific group just two years ago.

The report released on Wednesday by thousands of scientists for the 2007-2008 International Polar Year concluded that the western part of the continent is also warming up, not just the Antarctic Peninsula, a narrow stretch pointing toward South America.

Making matters worse, scientists said the ice shelves that hold the glaciers back from the sea are also weakening.

Previously most of the warming was thought to occur on the Antarctic Peninsula, but satellite data and automated weather stations are indicating otherwise.

"The warming we see in the peninsula also extends all the way down to what is called west Antarctica," said Colin Summerhayes, executive director of the Britain-based Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research and a member of International Polar Year's steering committee.

"That's unusual and unexpected," he said.

West Antarctica is a land mass that lies along the Pacific Ocean over the South Pole. It includes the Antarctic Peninsula and is separated from the rest of the continent by the Ross and Weddell Seas.

For the International Polar Year, scientists from more than 60 countries have been conducting intense Arctic and Antarctic research over the past two southern summer seasons - on the ice, at sea, and via icebreaker, submarine and surveillance satellite.

Some findings were already released in partial reports.

The big surprise was exactly how much western Antarctica's glaciers are melting.

The biggest of the western glaciers, the Pine Island Glacier, is moving 40 percent faster than it was in the 1970s, discharging water and ice more rapidly into the ocean, Summerhayes said.

The Smith Glacier is moving 83 percent faster than it did in 1992, he said.


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