Letter | Published:

Acceleration of Greenland ice mass loss in spring 2004

Abstract

In 2001 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected the contribution to sea level rise from the Greenland ice sheet to be between -0.02 and +0.09 m from 1990 to 2100 (ref. 1). However, recent work2,3,4 has suggested that the ice sheet responds more quickly to climate perturbations than previously thought, particularly near the coast. Here we use a satellite gravity survey by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) conducted from April 2002 to April 2006 to provide an independent estimate of the contribution of Greenland ice mass loss to sea level change. We detect an ice mass loss of 248 ± 36 km3 yr-1, equivalent to a global sea level rise of 0.5 ± 0.1 mm yr-1. The rate of ice loss increased by 250 per cent between the periods April 2002 to April 2004 and May 2004 to April 2006, almost entirely due to accelerated rates of ice loss in southern Greenland; the rate of mass loss in north Greenland was almost constant. Continued monitoring will be needed to identify any future changes in the rate of ice loss in Greenland.

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Acknowledgements

We thank S. Bettadpur, J. Cheng, J. Reis, E. Rignot and M. Watkins for data and advice. This work was supported by NASA's Cryospheric and Solid Earth Programs and by the NSF Office of Polar Programs. This research was carried out in part at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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Correspondence to Isabella Velicogna.

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Reprints and permissions information is available at www.nature.com/reprints. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Further reading

Figure 1: Averaging functions.
Figure 2: Greenland GRACE monthly mass solutions.
Figure 3: North and south Greenland GRACE monthly mass solutions.
Figure 4: The best-fitting mass loss trends for each region, as determined for moving two-year data spans.

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