Antarctica's Ice Sheet Gains Higher Than Losses

Posted: Nov 1 2015, 9:49am CST | by , Updated: Nov 2 2015, 11:41pm CST, in News | Latest Science News


Antarctica is not Losing Ice Sheet After all, NASA Finds
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The gains of Antarctic ice sheet are greater than the losses.

Phew! Antarctica is not losing its ice sheet after all, says NASA.  In fact, so much more ice has been added into the continent over the past 10,000 years that it makes the gains of Antarctic ice sheet greater than losses.

The new NASA research appears to contradict what has been said in several previous studies. Many authentic reports including Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2013 report also documented that Antarctica is losing its ice sheet. 

By analyzing satellite data, NASA suggests that Antarctica gained 112 billion tons of ice on average 1991 to 2001. The process was a bit slow in the past decade but it did not change the overall balance significantly. Some smaller areas experienced drastic height changes but there were minimal changes noticed overall.

"We're essentially in agreement with other studies that show an increase in ice discharge in the Antarctic Peninsula and the Thwaites and Pine Island region of West Antarctica," said Jay Zwally, a glaciologist with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study. "Our main disagreement is for East Antarctica and the interior of West Antarctica -- there, we see an ice gain that exceeds the losses in the other areas." 

NASA scientists measured the expansion and reduction in the Antarctic ice sheet through satellite altimeters which point to any significant changes in surface height. Though, situation is sort of equal as of right now but it can reserve within few decades.

“If the losses of the Antarctic Peninsula and parts of West Antarctica continue to increase at the same rate they've been increasing for the last two decades, the losses will catch up with the long-term gain in East Antarctica in 20 or 30 years -- I don't think there will be enough snowfall increase to offset these losses.” Zwally said.

Many scientists link the mass gain in East Antarctica with the recent increase in snow accumulation but Zwally and his team suggests that snowfall in the region actually decreased in the past three decades or so. 

The process of ice thickening in East Antarctica started a long ago around 10,000 years and slowly accumulated on ice sheet by an average of 0.7 inches. The small thickening, stretching over thousands of years, was enough to outweigh the losses in other part of the continent during the same time. 

“The good news is that Antarctica is not currently contributing to sea level rise, but is taking 0.23 millimeters per year away,” said Zwally. “But this is also bad news. If the 0.27 millimeters per year of sea level rise attributed to Antarctica in the IPCC report is not really coming from Antarctica, there must be some other contribution to sea level rise that is not accounted for.”   

For collecting more accurate data and observing small changes in ice height, NASA is planning to develop another land elevation satellite ICESat-2.

"It will contribute to solving the problem of Antarctica's mass balance by providing a long-term record of elevation changes."

The study was published in Journal of Glaciology.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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