A Reconciled Estimate of Glacier Contributions to Sea Level Rise: 2003 to 2009

Science  17 May 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6134, pp. 852-857
DOI: 10.1126/science.1234532

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Melting Away

We assume the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets are the main drivers of global sea-level rise, but how large is the contribution from other sources of glacial ice? Gardner et al. (p. 852) synthesize data from glacialogical inventories to find that glaciers in the Arctic, Canada, Alaska, coastal Greenland, the southern Andes, and high-mountain Asia contribute approximately as much melt water as the ice sheets themselves: 260 billion tons per year between 2003 and 2009, accounting for about 30% of the observed sea-level rise during that period.


Glaciers distinct from the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets are losing large amounts of water to the world’s oceans. However, estimates of their contribution to sea level rise disagree. We provide a consensus estimate by standardizing existing, and creating new, mass-budget estimates from satellite gravimetry and altimetry and from local glaciological records. In many regions, local measurements are more negative than satellite-based estimates. All regions lost mass during 2003–2009, with the largest losses from Arctic Canada, Alaska, coastal Greenland, the southern Andes, and high-mountain Asia, but there was little loss from glaciers in Antarctica. Over this period, the global mass budget was –259 ± 28 gigatons per year, equivalent to the combined loss from both ice sheets and accounting for 29 ± 13% of the observed sea level rise.

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