According to a recent research study conducted by NASA, Antarctica is currently gaining more ice than it is losing. The NASA team came to this conclusion after examining the heights of the region’s ice sheets using satellites.
In this research study, NASA used new methods to come to the conclusion that Antarctica is gaining more ice than it is losing, such as measuring small height changes in the ice over large areas. The conclusion that has been reached from this research study is contrary to more than a decade of research that has revealed that Antarctica is actually losing ice and contributing to rising global sea levels.
“The Zwally group’s findings are at odds with all other independent methods: re-analysis, gravity measurements, mass budget method, and other groups using the same data,” said Eric Rignot, who has worked on other similar Antarctic studies.
Antarctica is roughly the size of the United States and Mexico combined. Since Antarctica is such a large area, ice changes aren’t uniform throughout the entire continent, so it is assumed that some areas are losing ice while others are gaining ice. NASA has noticed that the Antarctic Peninsula and parts of West Antarctica are losing ice and the rate at which this region of Antarctica is losing ice is expected to increase in the coming years.
The eastern region of the continent and some interior portions are gaining ice and those gains currently outweigh the losses that the western region of the continent is experiencing. Since the recent studies show that Antarctica is actually gaining ice, the continent would not be adding to global sea level rises and it has the ability to offset some of the losses experienced in Greenland and other glacial areas.
“We’re essentially in agreement with other studies that show an increase in ice discharge in the Antarctic Peninsula and the Thwaites and Pine Island region of West Antarctica. Our main disagreement is for East Antarctica and the interior of West Antarctica—there, we see an ice gain that exceeds the losses in the other areas,” said lead researcher Jay Zwally from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Increased snowfall accumulations began in Antarctica about 10,000 years ago and many scientists believe that is why the continent is currently gaining ice. Over the years, the snow has accumulated, compacted, and formed into ice. Although there are current gains in ice, it doesn’t look good for the future.
Increasing ice loss in the peninsula and western Antarctica and slowing gains in other regions of the continent are expected to lead to overall losses of ice within the next 20 years. This could occur sooner than expected though, recent research has revealed that the western ice sheet is destabilizing, which would overcome the current gains elsewhere and could lead to sea levels rising up to 3 meters globally. Miami coastline is currently experiencing sea level rises and Antarctica is responsible for roughly 8% of those increases.
“In our simulations, 60 years of melting at the presently observed rate are enough to launch a process which is then unstoppable and goes on for thousands of years,” said Johannes Feldmann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
Last year, the extent of Antarctic sea ice cover is at its highest levels since records began.
“This is an area covered by sea ice which we’ve never seen from space before. Thirty-five years ago the first satellites went up which were reliably telling us what area, two dimensional area, of sea ice was covered and we’ve never seen that before, that much area. That is roughly double the size of the Antarctic continent and about three times the size of Australia,” said Jan Lieser from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (CRC).