A new NASA study found that there has been a net increase in land ice in Antarctica in recent years, despite a decline in some parts of the continent. The study's lead author astutely predicted that climate science deniers would distort the study, even though it does nothing to contradict the scientific consensus on climate change or the fact that sea levels will continue to rise.
New Study Finds Previously Unaccounted For Gains In East Antarctic Ice Sheet
NASA Study Finds Antarctica Has Experienced Net Ice Gains In Recent Years Due To 10,000 Year Trend Of Increased Snowfall. A new study by NASA published on October 30 in the Journal of Glaciology found that the Antarctic ice sheet has been increasing in recent years due to a 10,000 year trend of increased snow accumulation in East Antarctica. The study stated that ice losses in West Antarctica have been outweighed by East Antarctica's ice increases, but that this trend may reverse itself in only a few decades. From the study's press release:
According to the new analysis of satellite data, the Antarctic ice sheet showed a net gain of 112 billion tons of ice a year from 1992 to 2001. That net gain slowed to 82 billion tons of ice per year between 2003 and 2008.
“At the end of the last Ice Age, the air became warmer and carried more moisture across the continent, doubling the amount of snow dropped on the ice sheet,” Zwally said.
The extra snowfall that began 10,000 years ago has been slowly accumulating on the ice sheet and compacting into solid ice over millennia, thickening the ice in East Antarctica and the interior of West Antarctica by an average of 0.7 inches (1.7 centimeters) per year. This small thickening, sustained over thousands of years and spread over the vast expanse of these sectors of Antarctica, corresponds to a very large gain of ice - enough to outweigh the losses from fast-flowing glaciers in other parts of the continent and reduce global sea level rise. [NASA.gov, 10/30/15]
Lead Study Author Astutely Warned Deniers Would Misuse Study To Dismiss Global Warming
Lead Author Jay Zwally: “I Know Some Of The Climate Deniers Will Jump On This,” But “It Should Not Take Away From The Concern About Climate Warming.” In an interview with Nature, the study's lead author, glaciologist Jay Zwally, warned that “climate deniers” would wrongly tout the study as proof that “we don't have to worry [about global warming] as some people have been making out”:
The findings do not mean that Antarctica is not in trouble, Zwally notes. “I know some of the climate deniers will jump on this, and say this means we don't have to worry as much as some people have been making out,” he says. “It should not take away from the concern about climate warming.” As global temperatures rise, Antarctica is expected to contribute more to sea-level rise, though when exactly that effect will kick in, and to what extent, remains unclear. [Nature, 10/2/15]
But Study Does Not Disprove Scientific Consensus On Global Warming
Study Authors: Findings Mostly In Agreement With Other Studies, Do Not Discount Future Sea Level Rise. Zwally stated in the NASA press release that the study is “essentially in agreement with other studies” showing that land ice in West Antarctica is severely decreasing, but that the “main disagreement is for East Antarctica and the interior of West Antarctica.” He also noted that over the next couple of decades, ice loss in West Antarctica will likely outweigh the snowfall increase in East Antarctica, and that sea level rise over past decades must be coming from somewhere else. The Christian Science Monitor reported:
It could take only a few decades for the ice melt in Antarctica to outweigh the ice gains, the paper's authors say.
“I don't think there will be enough snowfall increase to offset these losses,” Jay Zwally, NASA glaciologist and lead author of the study, said in a press release.
For now, the study authors say, these findings challenge current explanations for sea level rise, much of which is attributed to melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.
“The good news is that Antarctica is not currently contributing to sea level rise, but is taking 0.23 millimeters per year away,” said Dr. Zwally.
“But this is also bad news,” he added. “If the 0.27 millimeters per year of sea level rise attributed to Antarctica in the IPCC report is not really coming from Antarctica, there must be some other contribution to sea level rise that is not accounted for.” [Christian Science Monitor, 11/1/15]
Climate Hawks: “Even At Face Value, The Study's Findings Don't Indicate That Climate Change-Induced Sea Level Rise Is Not A Major Concern.” In its “Climate Denier Roundup” for Daily Kos, Climate Hawks wrote that the study's findings “don't indicate that climate change-induced sea level rise is not a major concern, because either thermal expansion or the melting of another big body of ice may be happening faster than we think”:
Here's the generic algebraic formula for sea level rise: SLR = ice melt + expansion. The amount of sea level rise--which we know because we can observe it--is equal to the sum of glacier and ice sheet melt plus the increase in water volume due to warming, known as thermal expansion. Even at face value, the study's findings don't indicate that climate change-induced sea level rise is not a major concern, because either thermal expansion or the melting of another big body of ice may be happening faster than we think. [Daily Kos, 11/3/15]
And Other Measurements Show Net Loss Of Antarctic Ice In Recent Years
NASA's Gavin Schmidt: “I Would Pin More Weight” To Recent Data From NASA GRACE Satellite “Than To This Latest Paper.” VICE News reported:
Gavin Schmidt, who directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and was not affiliated with the study, said that data from a pair of satellites called GRACE, which measure gravity, actually points towards a net loss of ice on the Antarctic continent in more recent years.
Schmidt said that there are two methods for measuring the mass of an ice sheet. The first measures gravity, and the second measures the elevation of the top of the ice sheet. Both methods need to take different variables into account to be accurate. The method used in this most recent study measured the ice sheet's elevation, and the most recent time period it considered ended in 2008.
“I would pin more weight to the GRACE data than to this latest paper,” Schmidt told VICE News. [VICE News, 11/2/15]
Slate's Phil Plait: Since End Of Study Dataset In 2008, Antarctic Ice Loss Has Greatly Accelerated. Slate science writer Phil Plait wrote:
A new study just published in the Journal of Glaciology is causing some buzz in climate circles, because it appears to claim that Antarctica -- long thought to be losing ice at extremely alarming rates -- is actually gaining ice. However, note the word “appear”. The reality is more complicated, and in the end the important aspect of this is that the study only talks about part of Antarctica, and only used data up to 2008. Both of these points are critical.
They looked at data going from 1992 - 2008. Starting right around that time, mass loss due to melting ice in Antarctica (mostly in the west) has accelerated. It's actually been speeding up for some time, but in recent years it's really kicked in. Every year, about six billion more tons of ice are lost than the year before. In the past two decades, the loss rate has doubled.
This is enough to easily outpace the mass gained by snowfall over East Antarctica. Using data taken by the Grace satellites (which measure how mass underneath them changes over time), we know that overall, Antarctica is currently losing more than 130 billion tons of ice per year, and again, that number is increasing every year. Since 2002 it's lost about two trillion tons of ice. [Slate, 11/3/15]
Study Author Was Right: Conservative Media Used Study To Deny Climate Science Consensus
Fox's Varney: Study Provides “Doubt” That “Global Warming Theories Are Going The Right Way.” On the November 2 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney teased a segment on the NASA study by claiming it is “putting some doubt that some global warming theories are going the right way. That's NASA saying that.” Varney later brought on Fox News contributor Stephen Moore, who complained that the media touts every “story that seems to validate global warming,” while ignoring studies like the NASA study, which are an “indication that it's actually not happening.” At the end of the segment, Moore joked that “this might be the start of another Ice Age.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 11/2/15; 11/2/15]
Drudge Report Hyped NASA Study Underneath Headline About Putin Calling Global Warming “A Fraud.” The Drudge Report, a highly trafficked conservative news aggregator, linked to the Christian Science Monitor's article on the NASA study with the headline “Antarctica gaining ice ...” The headline was placed beneath another headline that stated: “PUTIN: Global Warming 'A Fraud'...” (as well as a headline touting the baseless claim that the United Nations is planning to create a “climate justice” court):
Limbaugh Criticized Media Outlet For Reporting That Study Does Not Disprove Global Warming. On the November 2 edition of his show, Rush Limbaugh criticized the Christian Science Monitor for reporting that the NASA study is not evidence that “global warming is over”:
LIMBAUGH: Is global warming over? No, no, of course not. We're not supposed to assume that! We only assume when the ice is melting that there is global warming. But when the ice is expanding? No, no, no, no, no. That does not mean that there isn't any global warming! See how this works? [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 11/2/15; Christian Science Monitor, 11/1/15]
American Thinker: “The Fraud Is Falling Apart.” Conservative blog American Thinker published a blog post headlined: “Oh-oh! NASA study finds Antarctic ice cap growing.” In it, American Thinker asserted that the global warming “fraud” is “falling apart.” [American Thinker, 11/2/15]
The Telegraph: Antarctic Ice Growing “Despite Fears Over Global Warming.” The Telegraph reported: “Antarctica's ice floes have been found to be growing faster than they are shrinking despite fears over global warming.” [The Telegraph, 11/2/15]
The Daily Express: “What Global Warming?” The Daily Express published an article headlined, “What global warming? Antarctic ice is INCREASING by 135 billion tonnes a year, says NASA.” The article asserted: “Global warming theories have been thrown into doubt after Nasa also claimed current horror predictions into future sea-level rises may not be as severe.” [The Daily Express, 11/2/15]
Newsmax: “NASA Debunks Global Warming.” Right-wing website Newsmax published an article headlined: “NASA Debunks Global Warming: Ice Sheets Growing.” [Newsmax, 11/1/15]
Conservative Media Have History Of Distorting Scientific Research To Fit Deniers' Agenda. Over the past several years, scientists have frequently had to call out right-wing media for distorting their studies to promote climate science denial. [Media Matters, 10/23/15]