Climate Science

More and More Melting

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Science  18 Mar 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6023, pp. 1367
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6023.1367-c

One of the most important consequences of global warming is the loss of mass from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, and the rise in sea level accompanying that loss. Measuring changes in the mass of an ice sheet is extremely difficult, due both to the technical challenges involved in collecting good data and the intrinsic variability of the process, but the precision of the applied methods has increased sufficiently over the past decades that even monthly trends can now be discerned. Rignot et al. provide an update on the state of mass change of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, using two independent methods in order to demonstrate consistency in the measurements. They find that the rate of ice sheet loss has accelerated over the past 18 years by a combined total of 36.3 ± 2 Gt/year2, three times faster than that of mountain glaciers and ice caps. If this trend continues, ice sheets will be the largest single contributor to sea-level rise by the end of the 21st century and will probably contribute more to sea-level rise than is currently projected.

Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L05503 (2011).

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