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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  14 Aug 2020

14 Aug 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Review Article: Earth's ice imbalance

Thomas Slater1, Isobel R. Lawrence1, Inès N. Otosaka1, Andrew Shepherd1, Noel Gourmelen2, Livia Jakob3, Paul Tepes2, and Lin Gilbert4 Thomas Slater et al.
  • 1Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK
  • 2School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH8 9XP, UK
  • 3Earthwave Ltd, Edinburgh, EH9 3HJ, UK
  • 4Mullard Space Science Laboratory, Department of Space & Climate Physics, University College London, WC1E 6BT, UK

Abstract. We combine satellite observations and numerical models to show that Earth lost 28 trillion tonnes of ice between 1994 and 2017. Arctic sea ice (7.6 trillion tonnes), Antarctic ice shelves (6.5 trillion tonnes), mountain glaciers (6.2 trillion tonnes), the Greenland ice sheet (3.8 trillion tonnes), the Antarctic ice sheet (2.5 trillion tonnes), and Southern Ocean sea ice (0.9 trillion tonnes) have all decreased in mass. Just over half (60 %) of the ice loss was from the northern hemisphere, and the remainder (40 %) was from the southern hemisphere. The rate of ice loss has risen by 57 % since the 1990s – from 0.8 to 1.2 trillion tonnes per year – owing to increased losses from mountain glaciers, Antarctica, Greenland, and from Antarctic ice shelves. During the same period, the loss of grounded ice from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets and mountain glaciers raised the global sea level by 35.0 ± 3.2 mm. The majority of all ice losses from were driven by atmospheric melting (68 % from Arctic sea ice, mountain glaciers ice shelf calving and ice sheet surface mass balance), with the remaining losses (32 % from ice sheet discharge and ice shelf thinning) being driven by oceanic melting. Altogether, the cryosphere has taken up 3.2 % of the global energy imbalance.

Thomas Slater et al.

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Thomas Slater et al.

Thomas Slater et al.


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Latest update: 23 Sep 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Satellite observations are the best method for tracking ice loss, because the cryosphere is vast and remote. Using these, and some numerical models, we show that Earth has lost 28 trillion tonnes (Tt) of ice since 1994 from: Arctic sea ice (7.6 Tt); ice shelves (6.5 Tt); mountain glaciers (6.2 Tt); the Greenland (3.8 Tt) and Antarctic ice sheets (2.5 Tt); and Antarctic sea ice (0.9 Tt). It has taken just 3.2 % of the excess energy Earth has absorbed due to climate warming to cause this ice loss.
Satellite observations are the best method for tracking ice loss, because the cryosphere is vast...