Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NASA Satellite Data Helps Pinpoint Glaciers' Role in Sea Level Rise

17.05.2013
A new study of glaciers worldwide using observations from two NASA satellites has helped resolve differences in estimates of how fast glaciers are disappearing and contributing to sea level rise.

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:
http://www.nasa.gov
Text issued as NASA Headquarters Release No. 13-141
Steve Cole
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-0918
stephen.e.cole@nasa.gov
María-José Viñas
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
301-614-5883
mj.vinas@nasa.gov

Maria-Jose Vinas | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov
http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/glacier-sea-rise.html

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Seabed mining could destroy ecosystems
23.01.2018 | University of Exeter

nachricht How climate change weakens coral 'immune systems'
23.01.2018 | Ohio State University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Optical Nanoscope Allows Imaging of Quantum Dots

Physicists have developed a technique based on optical microscopy that can be used to create images of atoms on the nanoscale. In particular, the new method allows the imaging of quantum dots in a semiconductor chip. Together with colleagues from the University of Bochum, scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute reported the findings in the journal Nature Photonics.

Microscopes allow us to see structures that are otherwise invisible to the human eye. However, conventional optical microscopes cannot be used to image...

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rutgers scientists discover 'Legos of life'

23.01.2018 | Life Sciences

Seabed mining could destroy ecosystems

23.01.2018 | Earth Sciences

Transportable laser

23.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>