Ice sheet melting accounts for 20% of sea level rise since 1992

The loss of ice covering Greenland and Antarctica has accelerated over the last 20 years, shrinking three times as much as in the 1990s and contributing substantially to sea level rise, according to a comprehensive new study of ice sheet loss conducted by 26 laboratories around the world.

The study, published Thursday by the journal Science, comes weeks after Hurricane Sandy’s destruction of coastal communities in New York and New Jersey starkly highlighted the risks posed by sea level rise, especially during storm surges.

Ice sheet loss means that ice that melts during the summer thaw does not return in the winter. That results in a net loss of ice in a year-to-year comparison of a given area.

Supported by NASA and the European Space Administration, the study estimates that about 20% of current sea level rise can be attributed to the 344 billion tons of glacial ice lost annually in Greenland and Antarctica.  (The other major factors behind sea level rise are expansion of the oceans as they warm and melting of mountain glaciers, whose waters eventually run into the sea.)

“This study confirms that ice loss is occurring and raising sea levels,” said John Abraham, associate professor of thermal sciences at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., and a spokesman for the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, an information clearinghouse. “For those people who thought that ice sheets were not contributing to sea level rise, they are dead wrong.

( via