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Mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet from 1992 to 2017


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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Fig. 1: Antarctic Ice Sheet mass balance.
Fig. 2: Cumulative Antarctic Ice Sheet mass change.


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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




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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andrew Shepherd.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Extended data figures and tables

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Supplementary information

Supplementary Table 1

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

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The IMBIE team. Mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet from 1992 to 2017. Nature 558, 219–222 (2018).

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