Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

New Satellite Maps Show World's Major Ice Caps Melting at Unprecedented Rate

Climate
New Satellite Maps Show World's Major Ice Caps Melting at Unprecedented Rate

German researchers have established the height of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps with greater precision than ever before. And the new maps they have produced show that the ice is melting at an unprecedented rate.

Surface water flows down into a ‘moulin’ shaft in the Greenland ice cap. Photo credit: NASA via Wikimedia Commons

The maps, produced with a satellite-mounted instrument, have elevation accuracies to within a few metres. Since Greenland’s ice cap is more than 2,000 metres thick on average, and the Antarctic bedrock supports 61 percent of the planet’s fresh water, this means that scientists can make more accurate assessments of annual melting.

Dr Veit Helm and other glaciologists at the Alfred Wegener Institute’s Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, report in the journal The Cryosphere that, between them, the two ice sheets are now losing ice at the unprecedented rate of 500 cubic kilometers a year.

Big picture

The measurements used to make the maps were taken by an instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s orbiting satellite CryoSat-2. The satellite gets closer to the poles—to 88° latitude—than any previous mission and traverses almost 16 million sq km of ice, adding an area of ice the size of Spain to the big picture of change and loss in the frozen world.

CryoSat-2’s radar altimeter transmitted 7.5 million measurements of Greenland and 61 million of Antarctica during 2012, enabling glaciologists to work with a set of consistent measurements from a single instrument.

Over a three-year period, the researchers collected 200 million measurements in Antarctica and more than 14 million in Greenland. They were able to study how the ice sheets changed by comparing the data with measurements made by NASA’s ICESat mission.

More complex

Greenland’s volume of ice is being reduced at the rate of 375 cubic km a year. In Antarctica, the picture is more complex as the West Antarctic ice sheet is losing ice rapidly, but is growing in volume in East Antarctica.

Overall, the southern continent—98 percent of which is covered with ice and snow—is losing 125 cubic km a year. These are the highest rates observed since researchers started making satellite observations 20 years ago.

“Since 2009, the volume loss in Greenland has increased by a factor of about two, and the West Antarctic ice sheet by a factor of three,” said Angelika Humbert, one of the report’s authors.

YOU ALSO MIGHT LIKE

‘Irreversible’ Damage to Planet From Climate Change Says Leaked IPCC Report

Bill McKibben on Democracy Now!: Obama’s Nonbinding Climate Deal, IPCC Report, People’s Climate March

Leonardo DiCaprio Narrates Climate Change Films Urging Shift From Fossil Fuels to Renewables

A Brood X cicada in 2004. Pmjacoby / CC BY-SA 3.0

Fifteen states are in for an unusually noisy spring.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A creative depiction of bigfoot in a forest. Nisian Hughes / Stone / Getty Images

Deep in the woods, a hairy, ape-like man is said to be living a quiet and secluded life. While some deny the creature's existence, others spend their lives trying to prove it.

Read More Show Less

Trending

President of the European Investment Bank Werner Hoyer holds a press conference in Brussels, Belgium on Jan. 30, 2020. Dursun Aydemir / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

By Jon Queally

Noted author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben was among the first to celebrate word that the president of the European Investment Bank on Wednesday openly declared, "To put it mildly, gas is over" — an admission that squares with what climate experts and economists have been saying for years if not decades.

Read More Show Less

A dwarf giraffe is seen in Uganda, Africa. Dr. Michael Brown, GCF

Nine feet tall is gigantic by human standards, but when researcher and conservationist Michael Brown spotted a giraffe in Uganda's Murchison Falls National Park that measured nine feet, four inches, he was shocked.

Read More Show Less
Kelsey Mueller, 16, pets Ruby while waiting with her family to be escorted from the evacuation zone at the Shaver Lake Marina parking lot off of CA-168 during the Creek Fire on Sept. 7, 2020 in Shaver Lake, California. Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images

By Daisy Simmons

In a wildfire, hurricane, or other disaster, people with pets should heed the Humane Society's advice: If it isn't safe for you, it isn't safe for your animals either.

Read More Show Less