Observations from 11 satellite missions monitoring the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have revealed that the regions are losing ice six times faster than they were in the 1990s. If the current melting trend continues, the regions will be on track to match the “worst-case” scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of an extra 6.7 inches (17 centimeters) of sea level rise by 2100.
The findings, published online March 12, 2020, in the journal Nature from an international team of 89 polar scientists from 50 organizations, are the most comprehensive assessment to date of the changing ice sheets. The Ice Sheet Mass Balance Intercomparison Exercise team combined 26 surveys to calculate changes in the mass of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets between 1992 and 2018.
The assessment was supported by NASA and the European Space Agency. The surveys used measurements from satellites including NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite and the joint NASA-German Aerospace Center Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment. Andrew Shepherd at the University of Leeds in England and Erik Ivins at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California led the study.
The team calculated that the two ice sheets together lost 81 billion tons per year in the 1990s, compared with 475 billion tons of ice per year in the 2010s—a sixfold increase. All total, Greenland and Antarctica have lost 6.4 trillion tons of ice since the 1990s.