Sea Level Rise: NASA satellites help reveal glaciers' role

Antarctica seen from space
Antarctica seen from space
Credits: NASA

In a news release from 16 May 2013, NASA points out how two of its Earth Observation satellites - ICESat and GRACE - helped pinpoint the role of glaciers in global sea level rise: "A new study of glaciers worldwide using observations from two NASA satellites has helped resolve differences in estimates of how fast glaciers are disappearing and contributing to sea level rise.

The new research found glaciers outside of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, repositories of 1 percent of all land ice, lost an average of 571 trillion pounds (259 trillion kilograms) of mass every year during the six-year study period, making the oceans rise 0.03 inches (0.7 mm) per year. This is equal to about 30 percent of the total observed global sea level rise during the same period and matches the combined contribution to sea level from the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets.

The study compares traditional ground measurements to satellite data from NASA's Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) and Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) missions to estimate ice loss for glaciers in all regions of the planet. The study period spans 2003 to 2009, the years when the two missions overlapped.

"For the first time, we have been able to very precisely constrain how much these glaciers as a whole are contributing to sea level rise," said Alex Gardner, Earth scientist at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., and lead author of the study. "These smaller ice bodies are currently losing about as much mass as the ice sheets."