On Sunday, a group of British and Swedish scientists published new calculations for the great ice fields of Patagonia, the southern-most section of South America. They were able to map out the maximum extent reached by glaciers and ice caps in the region during a cold period known as the Little Ice Age, which ran from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
The results strongly suggest that glacial melting in Patagonia has sped up drastically in recent decades, by at least a factor of 10. That result dovetails with temperature records suggesting that the Earth has been warming briskly since about 1980. All of the melt water is, of course, winding up in the ocean.
“Our data suggest that the Patagonian ice fields are contributing to sea-level rise at an increasing rate,” wrote the scientists, led by Neil F. Glasser of Aberystwyth University in Britain. “This mirrors the significant rise in global temperatures detected over the past 30 years, supporting the conclusion that there is a global trend toward enhanced glacier frontal recession in recent decades and providing support for the assertion that glacier recession can be attributed to recent warming.”