Quantcast

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

Climate

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

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Mike Mozart / Flicker / CC BY 2.0

Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder on Friday after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found trace amounts of asbestos in one of its bottles.

Read More Show Less
Electric towers during golden hour. Pixabay / Pexels

An international group of scientists released a report today detailing how the fossil fuel industry actively campaigned to sow doubt about the climate crisis and what steps need to be taken to undo the damage, as the Los Angeles Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Justin Trudeau delivers remarks during an election rally in Markham, Ontario, Canada, on Sept. 15. Creative Touch Imaging Ltd. / NurPhoto via Getty Images

By Chloe Farand for Climate Home News

Canadians are voting on Monday in an election observers say will define the country's climate future.

Read More Show Less
Activists Greta Thunberg (2ndL), Iris Duquesne(C), and Alexandria Villaseñor (3rd R) attend a press conference where 16 children present their official human rights complaint on the climate crisis to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child at the UNICEF Building on Sept. 23 in NYC. KENA BETANCUR / AFP / Getty Images

By Jessica Taft

Fifteen kids from a dozen countries, including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, recently brought a formal complaint to the United Nations. They're arguing that climate change violates children's rights as guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a global agreement.

Read More Show Less
Cleanup costs for abandoned oil and gas wells once the producers have moved on could fall heavily on the public.
Susan Vineyard / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Justin Mikulka

Increasingly, U.S. shale firms appear unable to pay back investors for the money borrowed to fuel the last decade of the fracking boom. In a similar vein, those companies also seem poised to stiff the public on cleanup costs for abandoned oil and gas wells once the producers have moved on.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Blue tarps given out by FEMA cover several roofs two years after Hurricane Maria affected the island in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 18. RICARDO ARDUENGO / AFP / Getty Images

Top officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development confirmed to lawmakers last week that they knowingly — and illegally — stalled hurricane aid to Puerto Rico.

Read More Show Less
Actress Jane Fonda (C) and actor Sam Waterston (L) participate in a protest in front of the U.S. Capitol during a "Fire Drill Fridays" climate change protest and rally on Capitol Hill, Oct. 18. Mark Wilson / Getty Images News

It appears Jane Fonda is good for her word. The actress and political activist said she would hold demonstrations on Capitol Hill every Friday through January to demand action on the climate crisis. Sure enough, Fonda was arrested for demonstrating a second Friday in a row Oct. 18, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Only this time, her Grace and Frankie co-star Sam Waterston joined her.

Read More Show Less
Visitors look at the Aletsch glacier above Bettmeralp, in the Swiss Alps, on Oct. 1. The mighty Aletsch — the largest glacier in the Alps — could completely disappear by the end of this century if nothing is done to rein in climate change, a study showed on Sept. 12. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP via Getty Images

Switzerland's two Green parties made historic gains in the country's parliamentary elections Sunday, according to projections based on preliminary results reported by The New York Times.

Read More Show Less