2 Trillion Tons of Polar Ice Lost in 5 Years, and Melting Is Accelerating

By Eliza Strickland | December 17, 2008 10:37 am

Arctic iceSeveral new studies of ice loss at the earth’s poles paint a distressing picture of global warming‘s impact on those fragile ecosystems, and one study warns that changes in the Arctic climate can have a large impact on the rest of the world. In the first study, researchers determined that more than 2 trillion tons of landlocked ice in Greenland, Alaska, and Antarctica have melted since 2003, a melting trend that researchers expect to continue. Using new satellite technology that measures changes in mass in mountain glaciers and ice sheets, NASA geophysicist Scott Luthcke concluded that the losses amounted to enough water to fill the Chesapeake Bay 21 times. “The ice tells us in a very real way how the climate is changing,” said Luthcke [CNN].

Melting of land ice, unlike sea ice, increases sea levels very slightly. Between Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska, melting land ice has raised global sea levels about one-fifth of an inch in the past five years, Luthcke said. Sea levels also rise from water expanding as it warms [AP]. The amount by which sea levels will rise as a result of global warming is still uncertain. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gives an official estimate of a seven-inch to two-foot rise by 2100, but researchers say conditions at the poles are changing too quickly for confident predictions.

These alarming findings were revealed at the American Geophysical Union meeting, where another set of researchers announced the results of their study examining a phenomenon called Arctic amplification, in which warming at the North Pole creates a positive feedback loop. Theory predicts that as ice is lost in the Arctic, more of the ocean’s surface will be exposed to solar radiation and will warm up. When the autumn comes and the Sun goes down on the Arctic, that warmth should be released back into the atmosphere, delaying the fall in air temperatures [BBC News]. To test the theory, researchers checked autumn air temperatures between 2004 and 2008, and compared them to the long term average for autumn temperatures. They found that the air over the Arctic ocean has been about 3 degrees Celsius warmer than average in recent years.

The warming of the Arctic feeds on itself and accelerates, lead researcher Julienne Stroeve explains, because warmer autumn temperatures delay the onset of winter’s ice formation, and the reduced amount of ice causes the cycle to begin anew in the spring. These warming effects are not just restricted to the ocean, Dr Stroeve said. Circulation patterns could then move the warmth over land areas, she added. “The Arctic is really the air conditioner of the Northern Hemisphere, and as you lose that sea ice you change that air conditioner; and the rest of the system has to respond” [BBC News].

Related Content:
80beats: Arctic Tundra Surprises Scientists With Autumnal Methane Burps
80beats: New Study: “Humans Are Responsible” for Warming Even Antarctica
80beats: Methane Bubbles in the Arctic Ocean Give Climate Scientists the Willies
80beats: Forget the Press Coverage: Conflicting Reports on Rising Oceans Are a Fake Controversy

Image: NASA/Jeremy Harbeck

  • http://larianlequella.com Larian LeQuella


    But it’s all a natural cycle! Just look at this graph!

    Ummm, just ignore that orange line representing temperature increases, it’s probably just a mistake by an assistant of Al Gore.

  • http://larianlequella.com Larian LeQuella

    Edit to add: Apparently HTML image tags don’t work…. here is a direct link I guess: http://forums.randi.org/imagehosting/28149414795cac06.jpg

  • Dan Thompson

    An connection, of course, be vigorously denied but the hockey stick shaped graph, including the change from blade to handle, would likely track, in both time frame and shape, one of the development and exploding increase of wireless communication whose energy frequencies actibate, thus warm, just as those from the sun, with no built in regular night time cooling periods. Radio, data transmission, TV, remotes, cell phones, satellites, internet, sensors, locaters, trackers, radar, lasers, CBs, pagers, hand helds galore, etc. all create or utilize energy frequencies that keep the atmosphere and some surfaces in a constant state of activity, aka: warmth. Does anyone dare research such a graph? Would anyone suggest such a connection even if the graph indicated one? Would you publish even the possibility?

  • Kenneth Lawrence

    It cannot be denied that Earth’s northern pole is losing ice (as is Mars’), but what is the cause? Al Gore’s pseudodocumentary film “An Inconvenient Truth” claimed that human-produced CO2 is the culprit, and produced a chart to try to prove that. But it now appears that he had it backwards, and that global warming caused by increased solar energy output warms the oceans and releases more CO2 from the oceans into the atmosphere, not the other way around. When solar output decreases, CO2 is reabsorbed back into the oceans as they cool. So CO2 is not an effective greenhouse gas in Earth’s atmosphere and is not the cause of global warming. Don’t be taken in by the UN IPCC, it’s a charade. A lot of scientists depend on the false theory of human-produced global warming to keep funding flowing. Get the counter-documentary film “The Great Global Warming Swindle” (available on Amazon.com) if you want to know the truth about climate change and the global warming research industry. KL:)

  • Mike Ford

    How can you say one (The Great Global Warming Swindle) is the truth over Al Gore’s film? The fundamental question we have to ask is why does the funding of research influence the conclusions? It seems that the research will always support the view of whoever funds that research. Maybe it’s time we examine the possibility of having the researchers not know who is funding them. I think this is the only way for accurate results. The oil companies will never have research that their products are the main cause of global warming. Will some enviromental group ever say there is no global warming? Who are we to believe? BUT… is it not prudent to act now “just in case” there is a problem? Lets weigh the costs of renewable energy vs the “possible” cost of global warming. I think that pouring money into renewable energy makes sense, even if global warming is a myth.

    We produce nuclear energy that produces waste that will eventually kill people. Storing it in swimming pools for thousands of years is not a solution. It WILL kill people one day. Our decendents will hate us. We have the technology to produce clean energy, yet we couldn’t be bothered. It is easier/cheaper not to. We ignore the costs to future generations.

    If we are not responsible for global warming, should we just let it run it’s course? I don’t think it matters who/what is causing it, we should try to stop it. And if it is NOT happening, will switching to renewables be bad?
    Even if it is a giant hoax perpetrated by thousands of scientists and researchers, won’t switching to renewables be a good thing?

  • SC

    our anthropogenic CO2 emissions are sufficient to kick start this reaction from the planet system. the chemistry and math are not complex. the planet’s atmosphere is warming. the oceans are acidifying. yes natural forces can bring about such changes without us. but this time…we have initiated a runaway reaction. uneducated denials merely waste time in debate on the obvious. get over it. the climate change debate is dead. we cant stop the warming and melting in our lifetimes. the article tells us melting is happening faster than predicted. invest in floaties…faster than planned…


    america,china must sign kyoto protocol.

  • zaylon

    guess we need to find another planet to live since we have destoryed this one

  • steve

    I think most of the evidence on both sides is based on false pretenses. Understanding long term tests is how we establish a base line or (control). Didn’t anyone pay attention in high school. What is the Control? Most of the data I’ve seen presented is theory! There is evidence that the air is warming, and evidence that the earth is cooling, which is it? Taking care of our planet is always a good idea, but lets stop the money machine of global warming/climate change. Talk about a scam!!! Wait, maybe we could use the money for a bailout, yeah, thats it, lets give all the money to the government and let them use it to build schools, roads and other infrastructure. Wait, wouldn’t that require energy to build them, energy to print the worthless money, cars would drive on those roads, and people would have jobs that require energy and they would use up more carbon….. dang, we just can’t win. Lets all move to the desert and sit around, no breathing and NO FARTING!!! Sounds perfect!!!!

  • Jay

    So, how much is 2 trillion tons really. The Antarctic has between 24.5 and 30 million cubic kilometers of ice. Do the math and you find that 2 trillion tons is between 0.0073% and 0.0060% of the world’s ice. Sounds more like natural variation to me.

  • Karen

    I believe it DOES matter if we’re the cause of ‘global warming’. Our planet at one time was significantly warmer (remember all those dinosaur bones? and the petroleum products we’re still harvesting?). Life evolved. Life always evolves. The death of a species is not always a bad thing. Nature will see that the void is filled. Imagine for a second that cave-men had spent all their efforts trying to ‘save’ the dinosaurs from global cooling….hmmm.

  • http://www.ruthamcaungay.com/ rut ham cau

    Im not sure why but this weblog is loading extremely slow for me. Is anyone else having this problem or is it a problem on my end? Ill check back later and see if the problem still exists.

  • Spaceman

    We ARE the cause of ice-loss by leaving stuff on e.g. Lights, tv, and all those other stuff + we drive cars which is bad and when all our pollution goes up into our atmosphere it heats the earth up. WE NEED TO STOP PRODUCING GREENHOUSE GASES IF WE WONT OUR PLANET!


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar