Australia’s Antarctic runway is melting, prompting the government to seek a replacement airstrip.
Flights to the frozen, southern continent have been cut back due to the melting airstrip, which cost $46 million, according to the Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
The government estimated that the Wilkins runway would provide 20 flights to Antarctica each season, but that figure has been revised because the temperature is getting too warm now.
“Once it gets to above minus five degrees [celsius] in the ice, then there are safety parameters which mean we can’t [land] aircraft on that,” Australian Antarctic Division head Tony Fleming told the broadcaster.
A spokeswoman for the division told the Sydney Morning Herald that scientists are looking into “a range of other possible options over the longer term,” but made no decision to stop using the runway in the future.
Six flights are planned for the coming months, but none in January as the weather will be too warm Fleming told the ABC.
A survey from the University of Tasmania that was released Monday found that parts of Antarctica are losing ice rapidly and the rate of loss is growing.
“We’re now confident it is shrinking,” stated professor Matt King, who led the study, and added that his team used new satellite data to make the calibration.
“Worryingly, though, the rate of shrinking has sped up in some important locations. The parts of Antarctica that are losing mass most rapidly are seeing accelerated mass loss and this acceleration could continue well into the future,” he continued.
King said that “just a small contribution from the massive Antarctic ice sheet” is contributing to the unprecedented rise in the world’s sea level.
“What is sobering is that sea levels will rise even faster if Antarctica continues to lose increasingly more ice into the oceans,” he added.
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