Antarctic Ice Loss

January 13, 2008
Satelite Image of Ice Loss
Satellite-derived image of the surface topography of Antarctica. Shown in color are the flow speeds of glaciers draining ice into the oceans. The scale is meters per year. It is noticeable how the rate speeds up in narrow glacier outlets. Credit: Jonathan Bamber

Increasing amounts of ice mass have been lost from West Antarctica and the Antarctic peninsula over the past ten years, according to research from the University of Bristol and published online this week in Nature Geoscience.

Meanwhile the ice mass in East Antarctica has been roughly stable, with neither loss nor accumulation over the past decade.

Professor Jonathan Bamber at the University of Bristol and colleagues estimated the flux of ice from the ice sheet into the ocean from satellite data that cover 85% of Antarctica's coastline, which they compared with simulations of snow accumulation over the same period, obtained using a regional climate model.

They arrived at a best estimate of a loss of 132 billion tonnes of ice in 2006 from West Antarctica – up from about 83 billion tonnes in 1996 – and a loss of about 60 billion tonnes in 2006 from the Antarctic Peninsula.

Professor Bamber said: “To put these figures into perspective, four billion tons of ice is enough to provide drinking water for the whole of the UK population for one year."

The authors conclude that the Antarctic ice sheet mass budget is more complex than indicated by the evolution of its surface mass balance or climate-driven predictions.

Changes in glacier dynamics are significant and may in fact dominate the ice sheet mass budget. This conclusion is contrary to model simulations of the response of the ice sheet to future climate change, which conclude that it will grow due to increased snowfall.

The ice loss is concentrated at narrow glacier outlets with accelerating ice flow, which suggests that glacier flow has altered the mass balance of the entire ice sheet.

Over the 10 year time period of the survey, the ice sheet as a whole was certainly losing mass, and the mass loss increased by 75% during this time. Most of the mass loss is from the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica and the northern tip of the Peninsula where it is driven by ongoing, pronounced glacier acceleration. In East Antarctica, the mass balance is near zero, but the thinning of its potentially vulnerable marine sectors suggests this may change in the near future.

Source: University of Bristol

Explore further: Tiny ice losses at Antarctica's fringes can accelerate ice loss far away

Related Stories

East Antarctic Ice Sheet has history of instability

December 13, 2017

The East Antarctic Ice Sheet locks away enough water to raise sea level an estimated 53 meters (174 feet), more than any other ice sheet on the planet. It's also thought to be among the most stable, not gaining or losing ...

ELaNa XIV CubeSats launch on JPSS-1 mission

November 20, 2017

NASA has launched four small research satellites, or CubeSats, developed by four universities as part of a broader mission launching the next generation polar-orbiting satellite to space. These CubeSat missions were selected ...

Science update on climate change: from bad to worse

November 17, 2017

Scientists monitoring the Earth's climate and environment have delivered a cascade of grim news this year, adding a sense of urgency to UN talks on how best to draw down the greenhouse gases that drive global warming.

Recommended for you

Heavy oils and petroleum coke raising vanadium emissions

December 15, 2017

Human emissions of the potentially harmful trace metal vanadium into Earth's atmosphere have spiked sharply since the start of the 21st century due in large part to industry's growing use of heavy oils, tar sands, bitumen ...

Climate change made Harvey rainfall 15 percent more intense

December 14, 2017

A team of scientists from World Weather Attribution, including researchers from Rice University and other institutions in the United States and Europe, have found that human-caused climate change made the record rainfall ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

NotParker
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 14, 2008
"While the news focus has been on the lowest ice extent since satellite monitoring began in 1979 for the Arctic, the Southern Hemisphere (Antarctica) has quietly set a new record for most ice extent since 1979.

This can be seen on this graphic from this University of Illinois site The Cryosphere Today, which updated snow and ice extent for both hemispheres daily. The Southern Hemispheric areal coverage is the highest in the satellite record, just beating out 1995, 2001, 2005 and 2006. Since 1979, the trend has been up for the total Antarctic ice extent."

http://icecap.us/...e_extent

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.