Elevation Changes in Antarctica Mainly Determined by Accumulation Variability

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Science  20 Jun 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5883, pp. 1626-1629
DOI: 10.1126/science.1153894

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Antarctic Ice Sheet elevation changes, which are used to estimate changes in the mass of the interior regions, are caused by variations in the depth of the firn layer. We quantified the effects of temperature and accumulation variability on firn layer thickness by simulating the 1980–2004 Antarctic firn depth variability. For most of Antarctica, the magnitudes of firn depth changes were comparable to those of observed ice sheet elevation changes. The current satellite observational period (∼15 years) is too short to neglect these fluctuations in firn depth when computing recent ice sheet mass changes. The amount of surface lowering in the Amundsen Sea Embayment revealed by satellite radar altimetry (1995–2003) was increased by including firn depth fluctuations, while a large area of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet slowly grew as a result of increased accumulation.

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