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Mass balance of the Greenland Ice Sheet from 1992 to 2018

Abstract

In recent decades, the Greenland Ice Sheet has been a major contributor to global sea-level rise1,2, and it is expected to be so in the future3. Although increases in glacier flow4–6 and surface melting7–9 have been driven by oceanic10–12 and atmospheric13,14 warming, the degree and trajectory of today’s imbalance remain uncertain. Here we compare and combine 26 individual satellite measurements of changes in the ice sheet’s volume, flow and gravitational potential to produce a reconciled estimate of its mass balance. Although the ice sheet was close to a state of balance in the 1990s, annual losses have risen since then, peaking at 335 ± 62 billion tonnes per year in 2011. In all, Greenland lost 3,800 ± 339 billion tonnes of ice between 1992 and 2018, causing the mean sea level to rise by 10.6 ± 0.9 millimetres. Using three regional climate models, we show that reduced surface mass balance has driven 1,971 ± 555 billion tonnes (52%) of the ice loss owing to increased meltwater runoff. The remaining 1,827 ± 538 billion tonnes (48%) of ice loss was due to increased glacier discharge, which rose from 41 ± 37 billion tonnes per year in the 1990s to 87 ± 25 billion tonnes per year since then. Between 2013 and 2017, the total rate of ice loss slowed to 217 ± 32 billion tonnes per year, on average, as atmospheric circulation favoured cooler conditions15 and as ocean temperatures fell at the terminus of Jakobshavn Isbræ16. Cumulative ice losses from Greenland as a whole have been close to the IPCC’s predicted rates for their high-end climate warming scenario17, which forecast an additional 50 to 120 millimetres of global sea-level rise by 2100 when compared to their central estimate.

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Author information

Correspondence to Andrew Shepherd.

Additional information

*A list of participants and their affiliations appears at the end of the paper.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Table 1

Details of satellite datasets used in this study. This file contains: 1.1 Data sets and methods employed by participants of the gravimetry experiment group; 1.2 Data sets and methods employed by participants of the radar and laser altimetry experiment group; 1.3 Data sets and methods employed by participants of the mass budget experiment group; and Supplementary references.

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Shepherd, A., Ivins, E., Rignot, E. et al. Mass balance of the Greenland Ice Sheet from 1992 to 2018. Nature (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1855-2

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