Scientists used aerial photographs, satellite measurements and computer models to track how fast the southern-most continent has been melting since 1979 in 176 individual basins.
Between 1979 and 1990, Antarctica lost 40 billion metric tons of ice per year, a figure that rose six times to 252 billion metric tons per year between 2009 and 2017. It is now losing about 159 gigatons of ice yearly, particularly due to the melting of the Pine Island glacier (which lost a trillion tons of ice since 1979) and the Thwaites Glacier (which lost 634 billion tons).
Rignot told CNN, "I did not expect the cumulative contribution of East Antarctica melt to be so large", and said the finding is significant because "melting is taking place in the most vulnerable parts of Antarctica.parts that hold the potential for multiple meters of sea level rise in the coming century or two".
Already, Antarctic melting has raised global sea levels more than half an inch (1.4 centimetres) between 1979 and 2017, said the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a peer-reviewed USA journal.
"[But] the places undergoing changes in Antarctica are not limited to just a couple places".
Researchers were able to re-create a broad history of the Antarctic ice sheet going back 34 million years to when the ice sheet first formed.
Increasing carbon emissions could propel us into a world that hasn't existed for millions of years, and put the existence of the Antarctic ice sheet under threat. Scientists said it's likely that area has been more sensitive to climate change in recent years. This new data from the Antarctic could push that even further.
"What this study does is characterize the growth and decay of the Antarctic ice sheet and sheds light on what is forcing it to change", explains Meyers.
The new research is consistent in some ways with a major study published previous year by a team of 80 scientists finding that Antarctic ice losses have tripled in a decade and now total 219 billion tons annually.
The Nansen ice shelf.
For now, the ice melt and corresponding sea-level rise remains at a manageable level.
Photo taken on December 28, 2017 shows a penguin standing on sea ice in Antarctica.
"Sea ice creates a barrier between the ocean and the ice".
One thing's for certain: If East Antarctica is losing weight, and if that trend accelerates, the future of Earth's coastlines could start to look a lot dimmer.
Somewhat unexpectedly, the researchers also found that East Antarctica is an important contributor to ice loss, more so than we thought.
The most striking finding in Monday's study is the assertion that East Antarctica, which contains by far the continent's most ice - a vast sheet capable of almost 170 feet of potential sea-level rise - is also experiencing serious melting.
But a shift in wind patterns around Antarctica, induced by climate change, has led some to believe warm water carried by a circular current off the continental shelf has started invading the ice.