Analysis | Published:

Mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet from 1992 to 2017

Naturevolume 558pages219222 (2018) | Download Citation


The Antarctic Ice Sheet is an important indicator of climate change and driver of sea-level rise. Here we combine satellite observations of its changing volume, flow and gravitational attraction with modelling of its surface mass balance to show that it lost 2,720 ± 1,390 billion tonnes of ice between 1992 and 2017, which corresponds to an increase in mean sea level of 7.6 ± 3.9 millimetres (errors are one standard deviation). Over this period, ocean-driven melting has caused rates of ice loss from West Antarctica to increase from 53 ± 29 billion to 159 ± 26 billion tonnes per year; ice-shelf collapse has increased the rate of ice loss from the Antarctic Peninsula from 7 ± 13 billion to 33 ± 16 billion tonnes per year. We find large variations in and among model estimates of surface mass balance and glacial isostatic adjustment for East Antarctica, with its average rate of mass gain over the period 1992–2017 (5 ± 46 billion tonnes per year) being the least certain.

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This work is an outcome of the ESA–NASA Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise. A.S. was additionally supported by a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award and by the ESA Climate Change Initiative.

Reviewer information

Nature thanks R. Bell and C. Hulbe for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

The IMBIE team:

Andrew Shepherd1,*, Erik Ivins2, Eric Rignot3, Ben Smith4, Michiel van den Broeke5, Isabella Velicogna3, Pippa Whitehouse6, Kate Briggs1, Ian Joughin4, Gerhard Krinner7, Sophie Nowicki8, Tony Payne9, Ted Scambos10, Nicole Schlegel2, Geruo A3, Cécile Agosta11, Andreas Ahlstrøm12, Greg Babonis13, Valentina Barletta14, Alejandro Blazquez15, Jennifer Bonin16, Beata Csatho13, Richard Cullather17, Denis Felikson18, Xavier Fettweis11, Rene Forsberg14, Hubert Gallee7, Alex Gardner2, Lin Gilbert19, Andreas Groh20, Brian Gunter21, Edward Hanna22, Christopher Harig23, Veit Helm24, Alexander Horvath25, Martin Horwath20, Shfaqat Khan14, Kristian K. Kjeldsen12,26, Hannes Konrad1, Peter Langen27, Benoit Lecavalier28, Bryant Loomis8, Scott Luthcke8, Malcolm McMillan1, Daniele Melini29, Sebastian Mernild30,31,32, Yara Mohajerani3, Philip Moore33, Jeremie Mouginot3,7, Gorka Moyano34, Alan Muir19, Thomas Nagler35, Grace Nield6, Johan Nilsson2, Brice Noel5, Ines Otosaka1, Mark E. Pattle34, W. Richard Peltier36, Nadege Pie18, Roelof Rietbroek37, Helmut Rott35, Louise Sandberg-Sørensen14, Ingo Sasgen24, Himanshu Save18, Bernd Scheuchl3, Ernst Schrama38, Ludwig Schröder20, Ki-Weon Seo39, Sebastian Simonsen14, Tom Slater1, Giorgio Spada40, Tyler Sutterley3, Matthieu Talpe41, Lev Tarasov28, Willem Jan van de Berg5, Wouter van der Wal38, Melchior van Wessem5, Bramha Dutt Vishwakarma42, David Wiese2 & Bert Wouters5

Author information


  1. Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

    • Andrew Shepherd
    • , Kate Briggs
    • , Hannes Konrad
    • , Malcolm McMillan
    • , Ines Otosaka
    •  & Tom Slater
  2. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, USA

    • Erik Ivins
    • , Nicole Schlegel
    • , Alex Gardner
    • , Johan Nilsson
    •  & David Wiese
  3. Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, CA, USA

    • Eric Rignot
    • , Isabella Velicogna
    • , Geruo A
    • , Yara Mohajerani
    • , Jeremie Mouginot
    • , Bernd Scheuchl
    •  & Tyler Sutterley
  4. Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

    • Ben Smith
    •  & Ian Joughin
  5. Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    • Michiel van den Broeke
    • , Brice Noel
    • , Willem Jan van de Berg
    • , Melchior van Wessem
    •  & Bert Wouters
  6. Department of Geography, Durham University, Durham, UK

    • Pippa Whitehouse
    •  & Grace Nield
  7. Institute of Environmental Geosciences, Université Grenoble Alpes, Grenoble, France

    • Gerhard Krinner
    • , Hubert Gallee
    •  & Jeremie Mouginot
  8. Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, Greenbelt, MD, USA

    • Sophie Nowicki
    • , Bryant Loomis
    •  & Scott Luthcke
  9. School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK

    • Tony Payne
  10. National Snow and Ice Data Centre, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA

    • Ted Scambos
  11. Department of Geography, University of Liège, Liège, Belgium

    • Cécile Agosta
    •  & Xavier Fettweis
  12. Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Copenhagen, Denmark

    • Andreas Ahlstrøm
    •  & Kristian K. Kjeldsen
  13. Department of Geology, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, USA

    • Greg Babonis
    •  & Beata Csatho
  14. DTU Space, National Space Institute, Technical University of Denmark, Kongens Lyngby, Denmark

    • Valentina Barletta
    • , Rene Forsberg
    • , Shfaqat Khan
    • , Louise Sandberg-Sørensen
    •  & Sebastian Simonsen
  15. Spatial Geophysics and Oceanography Studies Laboratory, Toulouse, France

    • Alejandro Blazquez
  16. College of Marine Sciences, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, USA

    • Jennifer Bonin
  17. Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Centre, NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, Greenbelt, MD, USA

    • Richard Cullather
  18. Centre for Space Research, University of Texas, Austin, TX, USA

    • Denis Felikson
    • , Nadege Pie
    •  & Himanshu Save
  19. Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, Holmbury St Mary, UK

    • Lin Gilbert
    •  & Alan Muir
  20. Institute for Planetary Geodesy, Technische Universitat Dresden, Dresden, Germany

    • Andreas Groh
    • , Martin Horwath
    •  & Ludwig Schröder
  21. Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, USA

    • Brian Gunter
  22. School of Geography, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK

    • Edward Hanna
  23. Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

    • Christopher Harig
  24. Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, Germany

    • Veit Helm
    •  & Ingo Sasgen
  25. Institute of Astronomical and Physical Geodesy, Technical University Munich, Munich, Germany

    • Alexander Horvath
  26. Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

    • Kristian K. Kjeldsen
  27. Danish Meteorological Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark

    • Peter Langen
  28. Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. Johns, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

    • Benoit Lecavalier
    •  & Lev Tarasov
  29. Section of Seismology and Tectonophysics, National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, Rome, Italy

    • Daniele Melini
  30. Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Centre, Bergen, Norway

    • Sebastian Mernild
  31. Faculty of Engineering and Science, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Sogndal, Norway

    • Sebastian Mernild
  32. Direction of Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic Programs, Universidad de Magallanes, Punta Arenas, Chile

    • Sebastian Mernild
  33. School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

    • Philip Moore
  34. isardSAT, Barcelona, Spain

    • Gorka Moyano
    •  & Mark E. Pattle
  35. ENVEO, Innsbruck, Austria

    • Thomas Nagler
    •  & Helmut Rott
  36. Department of Physics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

    • W. Richard Peltier
  37. Institute of Geodesy and Geoinformation, University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany

    • Roelof Rietbroek
  38. Department of Space Engineering, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands

    • Ernst Schrama
    •  & Wouter van der Wal
  39. Department of Earth Science Education, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea

    • Ki-Weon Seo
  40. Institute of Physics, University of Urbino “Carlo Bo”, Urbino, Italy

    • Giorgio Spada
  41. Aerospace Engineering Sciences, Centre for Astrodynamics Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA

    • Matthieu Talpe
  42. Geodetic Institute, University of Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany

    • Bramha Dutt Vishwakarma


  1. The IMBIE team


A.S. and E.I. designed and led the study. E.R., B.S., M.v.d.B., I.V. and P.W. led the input–output-method, altimetry, SMB, gravimetry and GIA experiments, respectively. G.M. and M.E.P. performed the data collation and analysis. A.S., E.I., K.B., G.K., M.H., I.J., H.K., M.M., J.M., S.N., I.O., M.E.P., T.P., E.R., I.S., T.Sc., N.S., T.Sl., B.S., I.V., M.v.W. and P.W. wrote and edited the manuscript. All authors participated in the data interpretation and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Extended data figures and tables

  1. Extended Data Fig. 1 Datasets of ice-sheet mass balance included in our assessment.

    Details about the datasets are provided in Supplementary Table 1. Some datasets did not encompass all three ice sheets.

  2. Extended Data Fig. 2 Ice-sheet drainage basins.

    AIS drainage basins are determined according to the definitions of ref. 3 (left) and refs 2,19 (right). Basins that fall within the Antarctic Peninsula, West Antarctica and East Antarctica are shown in green, pink and blue, respectively. For the definition from ref. 3, the Antarctic Peninsula, West Antarctica and East Antarctica basins cover areas of 227,725 km2, 1,748,200 km2 and 9,909,800 km2, respectively. For the definition from refs 2,19, the Antarctic Peninsula, West Antarctica and East Antarctica basins cover areas of 232,950 km2, 2,039,525 km2 and 9,620,225 km2, respectively.

  3. Extended Data Fig. 3 Temporal variations in AIS SMB.

    We show time series of integrated SMB in AIS drainage regions2,19 from the MARv2.6 (blue) and RACMO2.3p2 (red) models. Solid lines are annual averages of the monthly data (dashed lines). mo, month.

  4. Extended Data Fig. 4 Modelled GIA beneath the AIS.

    a, Bedrock uplift rates in Antarctica averaged over the GIA model solutions used in this assessment. b, The corresponding standard deviations.

  5. Extended Data Fig. 5 Individual rates of ice-sheet mass balance.

    ai, Mass-balance estimates were determined from satellite altimetry (ac), gravimetry (de) and the input–output method (gi) for the Antarctic Peninsula (a, d, g), East Antarctica (b, e, h) and West Antarctica (c, f, i). The light-grey shading shows the estimated 1σ uncertainty relative to the ensemble average. The standard error of the mean solutions, per epoch, is shown in mid-grey.

  6. Extended Data Table 1 Spatially averaged AIS SMB
  7. Extended Data Table 2 GIA model details
  8. Extended Data Table 3 Features of mass-balance datasets included in our assessment
  9. Extended Data Table 4 Aggregated estimates of ice-sheet mass balance from satellite altimetry, gravimetry and the input–output method

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Table 1

    This table contains details of the satellite datasets used in this study

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