Category Archives: glaciers

Agreement polar ice sheets are melting

Many climate scientists felt the conclusions on effects of global warming in the 2007 IPCC review were too conservative. One reason was the estimation of likely melting of ice sheets and its effects.

Problem was that there was insufficient knowledge to draw definite conclusions. And the measurements of changes in ice sheets just wasn’t accurate enough.

That’s now changed and a large number of experts agree global warming has caused loss of ice from these ice sheets. And this has contributed to measured increases in sea level.

Richard A. Kerr reports in Science (see Experts Agree Global Warming Is Melting the World Rapidly):

“Forty-seven glaciologists have arrived at a community consensus over all the data on what the past century’s warming has done to the great ice sheets: a current annual loss of 344 billion tons of glacial ice, accounting for 20% of current sea level rise. Greenland’s share—about 263 billion tons—is roughly what most researchers expected, but Antarctica’s represents the first agreement on a rate that had ranged from a far larger loss to an actual gain. The new analysis, published on page 1183 of this week’s issue of Science, also makes it clear that losses from Greenland and West Antarctica have been accelerating, showing that some ice sheets are disconcertingly sensitive to warming.”

He’s referring to the major paper by Andrew Shepperd and others, A Reconciled Estimate of Ice-Sheet Mass Balance.

Over recent years climate change deniers/contrarians/sceptics have cherry picked data to counter any suggestion that the earth’s large ice sheets are melting. They have pointed to increased amounts of ice in Eastern Antarctica to balance reports of massive losses of ice in the Arctic. (Have a look at this animation to see how such data can be cherry picked). Similarly they have tried to hide concern of the loss of land ice by stressing reports of local increases in sea ice.

But the paper by Shepperd et al. combined data from satellite altimetry, interferometry, and gravimetry measurements. This provides more reliable estimates of changes in the ice sheets, and gives some detail of these changes. This figure from the paper gives an idea of the detail of their findings. It shows that all the major regions of the polar ice sheets except one (East Antarctica) have lost mass since 1992. The authors also estimate that mass loss from the polar ice sheets has contributed roughly 20 percent of the total global sea level rise during that period (at a rate of 0.59 ± 0.20 millimeter year−1 ).

Figure S1 from Shepperd et al.: Cumulative ice mass change of West Antarctica ((WAIS) East Antarctica (EAIS), Greenland (GrIS), and the Antarctic Peninsula (APIS).

And to underline the fact that denier claims of amounts of ice increasing in Antarctica are false, NASA recently displayed this figure showing data from Antarctica from their satellite measurements

Monthly changes in Antarctic ice mass, in gigatones, as measured by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites from 2003 to 2011. Image credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech; NASA GSFC; CU-Boulder; Technical University of Munich; Technical University of Denmark; Delft University of Technology, Aerospace Engineering, Netherlands; Durham University, UK; Leeds University, UK

Could those climate change deniers/contrarians/sceptics please stop hiding behind claims that gains by Antarctic ice sheets balance losses from ice sheets in Greenland and the Arctic.

They don’t.

See also:
Science: Major Regions of Polar Ice Have Been Shrinking Since 1992
Polar Ice Sheets Losing Mass, Several Methods Show
New Study Shows Global Warming Is Rapidly Melting Ice at Both Poles
Human-Caused Climate Change Signal Emerges from the Noise
Study: Polar ice sheets in Antarctica, Greenland melting 3 times faster than in ’90s
Ice Sheet Loss at Both Poles Increasing, Study Finds
Projections of sea level rise are vast underestimates
“Hard” “Authoritative” Evidence Of Climate Change Begins To Overwhelm Even Fox

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Politics and economics of Arctic ice loss

The unprecedented loss of sea ice in the Arctic this northern summer has made the news lately. The images below from the Guardian article Arctic sea ice shrinks to smallest extent ever recorded show the problem.

But this second figure brings it home to me. What we are seeing is the possibility of future commercial sea navigation through the Arctic circle – initially seasonal but eventually throughout the year. And increased exploitation of natural resources. Already major powers are lining up to take advantage of improved access and international political conflicts are emerging.

The article says:

“The shrinking of the ice cap was interpreted by environment groups as a signal of long-term global warming caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. A study published in July in the journal Environmental Research Letters, that compared model projections with observations, estimated that the radical decline in Arctic sea ice has been between 70-95% due to human activities.”

It looks like the first major political and economic effects directly attributable to human caused climate change will probably emerge around the Arctic. And in the not too distant future.

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