Recent contributions of glaciers and ice caps to sea level rise

Abstract

Glaciers and ice caps (GICs) are important contributors to present-day global mean sea level rise1,2,3,4. Most previous global mass balance estimates for GICs rely on extrapolation of sparse mass balance measurements1,2,4 representing only a small fraction of the GIC area, leaving their overall contribution to sea level rise unclear. Here we show that GICs, excluding the Greenland and Antarctic peripheral GICs, lost mass at a rate of 148 ± 30 Gt yr−1 from January 2003 to December 2010, contributing 0.41 ± 0.08 mm yr−1 to sea level rise. Our results are based on a global, simultaneous inversion of monthly GRACE-derived satellite gravity fields, from which we calculate the mass change over all ice-covered regions greater in area than 100 km2. The GIC rate for 2003–2010 is about 30 per cent smaller than the previous mass balance estimate that most closely matches our study period2. The high mountains of Asia, in particular, show a mass loss of only 4 ± 20 Gt yr−1 for 2003–2010, compared with 47–55 Gt yr−1 in previously published estimates2,5. For completeness, we also estimate that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, including their peripheral GICs, contributed 1.06 ± 0.19 mm yr−1 to sea level rise over the same time period. The total contribution to sea level rise from all ice-covered regions is thus 1.48 ± 0.26 mm −1, which agrees well with independent estimates of sea level rise originating from land ice loss and other terrestrial sources6.

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Figure 1: Mascons for the ice-covered regions considered here.
Figure 2: Mass change during 2003–2010 for all GIC regions shown in Fig. 1 and Table 1 .
Figure 3: HMA mass balance determination.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Geruo A for providing the glacial isostatic adjustment model, and G. Cogley, G. Kaser, I. Velicogna, T. Perron and M. Tamisiea for comments. This work was partially supported by NASA grants NNX08AF02G and NNXI0AR66G, and by NASA’s ‘Making Earth Science Data Records for Use in Research Environments (MEaSUREs) Program’.

Author information

T.J. and J.W. developed the study and wrote the paper. W.T.P. and S.S. discussed, commented on and improved the manuscript. S.S. provided the CLM4 hydrology model output.

Correspondence to John Wahr.

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Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Methods, additional references, Supplementary Figures 1-6 with legends and Supplementary Tables 1-2. (PDF 1193 kb)

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Jacob, T., Wahr, J., Pfeffer, W. et al. Recent contributions of glaciers and ice caps to sea level rise. Nature 482, 514–518 (2012) doi:10.1038/nature10847

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