The new research found glaciers outside of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, repositories of 1 percent of all land ice, lost an average of 571 trillion pounds (259 trillion kilograms) of mass every year during the six-year study period, making the oceans rise 0.03 inches (0.7 mm) per year. This is equal to about 30 percent of the total observed global sea level rise during the same period and matches the combined contribution to sea level from the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets.
The Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland is the largest valley glacier in the Alps and it has been losing mass since the mid-19th century. A new study using data from two NASA satellites found that glaciers like this one lost an average of 571 trillion pounds of ice per year from 2003 to 2009, which contributed to about 30 percent of the total observed global sea level rise during the same period. Credit: Frank Paul, University of Zurich.
The study compares traditional ground measurements to satellite data from NASA's Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) and Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) missions to estimate ice loss for glaciers in all regions of the planet. The study period spans 2003 to 2009, the years when the two missions overlapped.
"For the first time, we have been able to very precisely constrain how much these glaciers as a whole are contributing to sea level rise," said Alex Gardner, Earth scientist at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., and lead author of the study. "These smaller ice bodies are currently losing about as much mass as the ice sheets."
The study was published Thursday in the journal Science.
ICESat, which stopped operating in 2009, measured glacier change through laser altimetry, which bounces lasers pulses off the ice surface to inform the satellite of changes in the height of the ice cover. ICESat's successor, ICESat-2, is scheduled to launch in 2016. GRACE, still operational, detects variations in Earth's gravity field resulting from changes in the planet's mass distribution, including ice displacements.
The new research found all glacial regions lost mass from 2003 to 2009, with the biggest ice losses occurring in Arctic Canada, Alaska, coastal Greenland, the southern Andes and the Himalayas. In contrast, Antarctica's peripheral glaciers -- small ice bodies not connected to the main ice sheet -- contributed little to sea level rise during that period. The study builds on a 2012 study using only GRACE data that also found glacier ice loss was less than estimates derived from ground-based measurements.
Current estimates predict all the glaciers in the world contain enough water to raise sea level by as much as 24 inches (about 60 centimeters). In comparison, the entire Greenland ice sheet has the potential to contribute about 20 feet (about 6 meters) to sea level rise and the Antarctic ice sheet just less than 200 feet (about 60 meters).
"Because the global glacier ice mass is relatively small in comparison with the huge ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica, people tend to not worry about it," said study co-author Tad Pfeffer, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder. "But it's like a little bucket with a huge hole in the bottom: it may not last for very long, just a century or two, but while there's ice in those glaciers, it's a major contributor to sea level rise."
To make ground-based estimates of glacier mass changes, glaciologists perform on-site measurements along a line from a glacier's summit to its edge. Scientists extrapolate these measurements to the entire glacier area and carry them out for several years to estimate the glacier's overall mass change over time. While this type of measurement does well for small, individual glaciers, it tends to overestimate ice loss when the findings are extrapolated to larger regions, such as entire mountain ranges.
"Ground observations often can only be collected for the more accessible glaciers, where it turns out thinning is occurring more rapidly than the regional averages," Gardner said. "That means when those measurements are used to estimate the mass change of the entire region, you end up with regional losses that are too great."
GRACE does not have fine enough resolution and ICESat does not have sufficient sampling density to study small glaciers, but the two satellites' estimates of mass change for large glaciered regions agree well, the study concluded.
"We now have a lot more data for the glacier-covered regions because of GRACE and ICESat," said Gardner. "Without having these independent observations, there was no way to tell that the ground observations were biased."
The research involved 16 researchers from 10 countries, with major contributions from Clark University, the University of Michigan, Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, Trent University in Ontario, the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:
Maria-Jose Vinas | EurekAlert!
GPM sees deadly tornadic storms moving through US Southeast
01.12.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Cyclic change within magma reservoirs significantly affects the explosivity of volcanic eruptions
30.11.2016 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy