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WIREs Clim Change
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Is Antarctica melting?

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Abstract Until recently, the mass balance of the Antarctic ice sheet was not well known. Here, I review recent progress in determining its magnitude and temporal evolution, the physical processes that control the observed changes in ice sheet mass balance, and the important knowledge gaps that remain. The results highlight that the linkage between climate change and the Antarctic ice sheet is more complex than anticipated and that major observational and numerical modeling advances will be needed before we can reliably predict its evolution in a warming climate. At present, the Antarctic ice sheet is losing mass at a rate almost comparable to that of the Greenland ice sheet, about 250 ± 31 Gt/year or 0.7 mm/year sea level rise, and the mass loss is increasing with time, at a rate slightly below that observed in Greenland, at 14 ± 2 Gt/yr2. The Antarctic ice sheet is therefore a major contributor to sea level rise and its contribution is slowly increasing with time. WIREs Clim Change 2011 2 324–331 DOI: 10.1002/wcc.110 This article is categorized under: Paleoclimates and Current Trends > Modern Climate Change

Long‐term changes in yearly surface temperature in and around Antarctica. Places where it warmed over time are yellow to red, places where it cooled are blue, and places where there was no change are white.16

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Estimates of the mass balance of the Antarctic ice sheet in Gt/year (trillions of tons per year) from GRACE (red points), and InSAR/RACMO2 (black points) from 1992 to 2010. The data clearly show an increase mass loss with time, amidst considerable inter‐annual to decadal variations in mass balance driven by the large inter‐annual variability in Antarctic snowfall. Notice that over the period 1995–2002, the mass balance was positive but that this trend is not reflective of the longer term trend.13

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Satellite data shows fast ice thinning (red) along the coast of West Antarctica. The inset shows satellite tracks over Pine Island Glacier, from NASA's Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite, which reveal dynamic thinning concentrated on the fast‐flowing areas. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 11. Copyright 2009 Nature Publishing Group)

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Ice velocity of the Antarctic ice sheet inferred from satellite radar interferometry collected by ERS‐1/2, Radarsat‐1, Radarsat‐2, ALOS PALSAR, and Envisat ASAR.8,29 Velocities are color coded on a log scale from brown (∼0) to green (a few 10 m/year) to blue (100 m/year), purple (several 100 m/year) to red (km/year) overlaid on a MODIS mosaic of Antarctica.

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Temperature trends (°C/year) at 900 m depth using data collected from the 1930s to 2000s, including shipboard profile and Autonomous LAgrangian Current Explorer float data. The largest warming occurs in subantarctic regions, and a slight cooling occurs to the north. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 25. Copyright 2002 The American Association for the Advancement of Science)

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