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Trends and connections across the Antarctic cryosphere


Satellite observations have transformed our understanding of the Antarctic cryosphere. The continent holds the vast majority of Earth’s fresh water, and blankets swathes of the Southern Hemisphere in ice. Reductions in the thickness and extent of floating ice shelves have disturbed inland ice, triggering retreat, acceleration and drawdown of marine-terminating glaciers. The waxing and waning of Antarctic sea ice is one of Earth’s greatest seasonal habitat changes, and although the maximum extent of the sea ice has increased modestly since the 1970s, inter-annual variability is high, and there is evidence of longer-term decline in its extent.

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This work was supported by the UK Natural Environment Research Council's Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (cpom300001) and the European Space Agency’s Climate Change Initiative. AS was supported by a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit award. SLF was supported under NASA grant 80NSSC17K0006 and NOAA grant NA14NES4320003. We thank T. Slater, A. Ridout, and L. Gilbert for their help in preparing Fig. 1 and Fig. 2, and K. Duncan for help in preparing Fig. 4.

Author information

A.S. coordinated the work, and led the review of grounded ice. H.F. led the review of ice shelves and subglacial lakes. S.F. led the review of sea ice.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Andrew Shepherd.

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Fig. 1: Average annual motion of the Antarctic ice sheet and ice shelves, and of the surrounding sea ice in winter.
Fig. 2: Average trend in the elevation and thickness of Antarctic grounded ice and ice shelves, respectively, determined between 1992 and 2017 north of 81.5° S (dashed grey circle), and between 2010 and 2017 elsewhere.
Fig. 3: Temporal changes in the location of ice shelf barriers at the Antarctic Peninsula.
Fig. 4: Sea ice in the Weddell Sea in early November 2017, based on a composite of Sentinel-1 synthetic aperture radar imagery, MODIS optical satellite imagery and ASCAT scatterometer data.
Fig. 5: Schematic of a sea ice floe as observed by CryoSat-2 and AltiKa.


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