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Clearest satellite evidence yet of polar ice losses

Measuring global warming

Greenland Meltstream. Photo: Ian Joughin
Greenland Meltstream. Photo: Ian Joughin

Research news

Scientists have been tracking polar ice losses from space for 20 years. But the severity of the melting process in Greenland and Antarctica has always been disputed, as different ice sheet studies delivered varying results. An international team of experts, including representatives from Technische Universität München (TUM), has now analyzed a much broader satellite data set, confirming that both polar ice caps are definitely shrinking, albeit at different rates.

In a landmark study, published in the journal Science, the researchers show that melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets has contributed 11.1 millimetres to global sea levels since 1992. This amounts to one fifth of all sea level rise over the survey period. About two thirds of the ice loss was from Greenland, and the remainder was from Antarctica.

Although the ice sheet losses fall within the range reported by the IPCC in 2007, the spread of the IPCC estimate was so broad that it was not clear whether Antarctica was growing or shrinking. The new estimates are a vast improvement (more than twice as accurate) thanks to the inclusion of more satellite data, and confirm that both Antarctica and Greenland are losing ice.

Andrew Shepherd et al: A reconciled estimate of ice sheet mass balance, Science, November 2012, doi: 10.1126/science.1228102.

Dr. Martin Horwath / Prof. Roland Pail       
Technische Universität München
Institut für Astronomische und Physikalische Geodäsie
Tel.: +49 (0)89 289 23196 / +49 (0)89 289 23190
E-Mail: martin.horwath@bv.tum.de / pail@bv.tum.de 
Web: http://www.iapg.bv.tum.de/iapg.html

Greenland Meltstream. Photo: Ian Joughin
Greenland Meltstream. Photo: Ian Joughin
Hamish Pritchard on a British Antarctic Survey expedition in the Herschel Heights, Alexander Island. Photo: Mike Brian
Dwindling ice: Antarctic ice shields are melting as well. Photo: Mike Brian
Die Eisschilde schmelzen wirklich: Noch exaktere Beweise aus Satelliten-Daten
Both ice shields are melting after all: Clearest evidence yet of polar ice losses