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NASA satellites reveal how melting glaciers contribute to rising seas

Corey Tamas | May 20, 2013
Concerns over global warming and melting glaciers are nothing new, but climatologists are getting some help from NASA that could help them better study the effects of a changing climate.

Concerns over global warming and melting glaciers are nothing new, but climatologists are getting some help from NASA that could help them better study the effects of a changing climate.

A study published in the journal Science demonstrates how NASA satellites can tell us about the state of Earth's glaciers, and the startling degree to which they contribute to rising ocean levels. The research, which involved 16 international researchers and several major universities, shows that glaciers are a much bigger contributor to rising seas and a more serious threat than people generally believe.

Glaciers outside Greenland and Antarctica are home to 1 percent of the world's on-land ice, and have lost an average of 571 trillion pounds of mass annually during the six-year study, which in turn caused the oceans to rise by 0.03 inches. To put it in perspective, that's 30 percent of the total sea level rise during that time and is equal to the mass added from the ice sheets within Greenland and Antarctica.

Tad Pfeffer , a glaciologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder and co-author of the study, points out how we're overlooking the effect of glaciers.

"Because the global glacier ice mass is relatively small in comparison with the huge ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica, people tend to not worry about it, but it's like a little bucket with a huge hole in the bottom," Pfeffer said in a release. "It may not last for very long, just a century or two, but while there's ice in those glaciers, it's a major contributor to sea level rise."

The study also compares and contrasts NASA satellite study methods and the older methods used by the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) and the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) between 2003 and 2009. NASA's newer survey methods are much more accurate and, thus, better highlight the issue of melting glaciers.

 

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