NASA Study: Mass gains of Antarctic ice sheet greater than losse - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

NASA Study: Mass gains of Antarctic ice sheet greater than losses

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A new NASA study says that an increase in Antarctic snow accumulation that began 10,000 years ago is currently adding enough ice to the continent to outweigh the increased losses from its thinning glaciers. A new NASA study says that an increase in Antarctic snow accumulation that began 10,000 years ago is currently adding enough ice to the continent to outweigh the increased losses from its thinning glaciers.

NASA says the gains of the Antarctic ice sheet are greater than the losses. 

The study conducted recently concludes that an increase in Antarctic snow accumulation that began 10,000 years ago is currently adding enough ice to the continent and outweighs the increased losses from its thinning glaciers. The study challenges the conclusions of other studies, including the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) 2013 report, which says that Antarctica is overall losing land ice. 

NASA says satellite data shows the Antarctic ice sheet gaining 112 billion tons of ice a year from 1992 to 2001. That net gain slowed to 82 billion tons of ice per year between 2003 and 2008. 

“We’re essentially in agreement with other studies that show an increase in ice discharge in the Antarctic Peninsula and the Thwaites and Pine Island region of West Antarctica,” said Jay Zwally, a glaciologist with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study, which was published on Oct. 30 in the Journal of Glaciology. “Our main disagreement is for East Antarctica and the interior of West Antarctica – there, we see an ice gain that exceeds the losses in the other areas.”  Zwally added that his team “measured small height changes over large areas, as well as the large changes observed over smaller areas.”

Zwally says it might only take a few decades for Anarctica's growth to reverse. 

"If the losses of the Antarctic Peninsula and parts of West Antarctica continue to increase at the same rate they’ve been increasing for the last two decades, the losses will catch up with the long-term gain in East Antarctica in 20 or 30 years -- I don’t think there will be enough snowfall increase to offset these losses,” Zwally said. 

“At the end of the last Ice Age, the air became warmer and carried more moisture across the continent, doubling the amount of snow dropped on the ice sheet,” Zwally said.

The study calculated that the mass gain from the thickening of East Antarctica remained steady from 1992 to 2008 at 200 billion tons per year, while the ice losses from the coastal regions of West Antarctica  and the Antarctic Peninsula increased by 65 billions tons per year. 

“The good news is that Antarctica is not currently contributing to sea level rise, but is taking 0.23 millimeters per year away,” Zwally said. “But this is also bad news. If the 0.27 millimeters per year of sea level rise attributed to Antarctica in the IPCC report is not really coming from Antarctica, there must be some other contribution to sea level rise that is not accounted for.”

To help accurately measure changes in Antarctica, NASA is developing the successor to the ICESat mission, ICESat-2, which is scheduled to launch in 2018. “ICESat-2 will measure changes in the ice sheet within the thickness of a No. 2 pencil,” said Tom Neumann, a glaciologist at Goddard and deputy project scientist for ICESat-2. “It will contribute to solving the problem of Antarctica’s mass balance by providing a long-term record of elevation changes.”

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