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The European Space Agency (ESA) highlighted on Tuesday that analysis of data, much of its gathered from ESA satellites, had established that the loss of mass by the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets was matching the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s worst-case scenarios. (ESA is separate from, and independent of, the European Union [EU], although it works with the EU on some programmes.)

The analysis was carried out by an international team of scientists from the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) and the UK’s University of Leeds, and has been published in “Nature Climate Change”. The team also belongs to the continuing Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE), which was set up in 2011 and is co-funded by ESA and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

“Satellites are our only means of routinely monitoring these vast and remote areas, so they are absolutely critical in providing measurements which we can use to validate ice sheet models,” highlighted Leeds University Centre for Polar Observation and Monitoring climate researcher and study lead author Tom Slater. “Satellite observations not only tell us how much ice is being lost, they also help us to identify and understand which parts of Antarctica and Greenland are losing ice and through what processes – both are key in helping us improve ice sheet models.”

The data for the study was gathered from a number of satellite missions, including ESA’s ERS-1 (European Remote Sensing satellite-1), ERS-2, Envisat and CryoSat, and the EU’s Copernicus Sentinel-1. These monitored and monitor the changes in the volume, mass and flow of the ice sheets. This monitoring has been taking place for nearly 30 years.

“Data from ESA satellite missions have underpinned many advances in our understanding of ice sheet behaviour over the past three decades,” pointed out DMI climate scientist and study co-author Ruth Mottram. “ESA’s family of satellite radar alimeters: ERS-1, ERS-2, Envisat and Cryosat have provided a long-term continuous record of ice sheet changes since the early 1990s.”

This satellite data has established that, between 1992 and 2017, Greenland and Antarctica lost a combined total of 6.4-trillion tons of ice. This resulted in global sea levels rising by 17.8 mm. Should this melting continue at the same rate then, by the end of this century, sea levels would have risen by another 17 cm, putting a further 16-million people at risk of coastal flooding.

“Satellite observations are showing us that the ice sheets are reacting surprisingly rapidly to environmental change,” stressed ESA Earth observation applications engineer Marcus Engdahl. “It is vital that scientists have access to data from future satellite missions that can observe polar areas, for example, the next high priority Copernicus candidate missions Cristal [Copernicus Polar Ice and Snow Topography Altimeter], Rose-L [Radar Observing System for Europe – L-band] and CIMR [Copernicus Imaging Microwave Radiometer].”

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Antarctic ice sheet, Antarctica, Climate change

World news – GB – Satellites confirm rapidly increasing ice sheet loss

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