California The rate of ice loss on the Antarctic continent has increased by 75 percent over the past decade - but not because the continental ice is melting.
Instead, a new study by a University of California at Irvine researcher says warmer ocean temperatures around Antarctica, likely abetted by shifting currents, are causing ice to flow more quickly to the ocean from the continent's interior.
The study, the product of 14 years of precision radar mapping over a far larger area than any previous effort, reveals the intricate webbing of the continents' glaciers, rivers of ice that are slowly but relentlessly thrusting themselves into surrounding seas.
It also shows that the effects of global warming aren't always straightforward.
"Most of Antarctica is still cold," said glaciologist Eric Rignot, the study's lead author, who recently joined a group of climate researchers at UC Irvine. "It's not showing any signs of warming. The interior is slightly cooler."
He said scientists have found no evidence of large-scale melting on the continent itself.
Once the glacial ice leaves the continental land mass and pushes its way into ocean water, however, the tongues of ice begin to melt from the bottom up.