Melting Glaciers Make Significant Contribution to Rising Sea Levels

05/17/2013 18:20

Photo Credit: ReutersDespite the fact that 99 percent of Earth’s land ice is locked up in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the remaining ice in the world’s glaciers contributed just as much to sea rise as the two ice sheets combined between 2003 and 2009, according to a new study published in the journal Science.

The study compared traditional ground measurements to satellite data from NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite, or ICESat, and the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experience, or GRACE, missions to estimate ice loss for glaciers in all regions of the planet.

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In so doing, the researchers discovered that of all the glacial regions that lost mass during the six-year time period, the largest losses occurred in Arctic Canada, Alaska, coastal Greenland, the southern Andes and the Himalayas.

“For the first time, we’ve been able to very precisely constrain how much these glaciers as a whole are contributing to sea rise,” lead author and geography Assistant Professor Alex Gardner of Clark University said in a press release.

In all, the glaciers outside of the Greenland and Antarctic sheets lost an average of roughly 260 billion metric tons of ice annually during the study period, which in turn led to a 0.03 inch rise in ocean levels annually.

Of the observation, Tad Pfeffer, a study co-author and Colorado University professor, explained that despite being overlooked, such a phenomenon can have large impacts over a significant period of time.

“Because the global glacier ice mass is relatively small in comparison with the huge ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica, people tend to not worry about it,” he said. “But it’s like a little bucket with a huge hole in the bottom: it may not last for very long, just a century or two, but while there’s ice in those glaciers, it’s a major contributor to sea level rise.”

Based on current estimates, should all the glaciers in the world melt, sea levels would increase by 20 feet; if Antarctica lost its sea cover that number would grow to 200 feet. NWN

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