Antarctica’s ice is melting six times faster than in the 1980s, a new study has found. Warm ocean water chipping away at freshwater ice sheets on the edges of the continent has caused the rapid melting of ice.

The annual rate at which snow melted rose to 278 billion tonnes between 2009 and 2017 from 44 billion tonnes between 1979 and 1990, said a study led by Eric Rignot, an earth systems scientist at the University of California at Irvine and NASA.

Rignot said that as global warming and ozone depletion continue to send ocean heat towards Antarctica, the continent’s melting ice will contribute to sea level rise.

“In this century alone, a ten-foot rise in sea levels is possible,” Rignot was quoted as saying by USA Today. “As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-metre sea level rise in the coming centuries.”

The study refers to the melting of ice sheets on Antarctica formed by fresh snowfall every year, as distinguished from the seasonal melting and freezing of sea ice around the continent, USA Today said.

Scientists have already predicted in 2013 that by 2100, global sea levels could rise by 100 centimetres if the world does not reduce carbon emissions. The new study raises concerns that global warming could raise sea levels much higher, in addition to causing extreme weather events such as superstorms as well as frequent heat waves and droughts, The Washington Post reported.

Rise in sea levels would sink island communities around the world and destroy wildlife habitats. In addition, sea water intrusion into fresh water bodies would result in drinking water scarcity. Global sea levels have already risen seven to eight inches since the 1900s, said The Washington Post report.

Rignot’s research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America on Monday.