Planet Gore

Not So Settled Science: Ice Cap Edition

The polar ice caps aren’t melting as fast as earlier projections suggested:

While vast quantities of ice melting into the ocean is not exactly good news, Wahr says, according to his team’s estimates, about 30 percent less ice is melting than previously thought.

The team used data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellite, which was launched as a joint project between NASA and Germany in 2002. The GRACE satellite measures gravity, which is related to mass, in 20 distinct regions worldwide. Wahr says that gives the team more accurate estimates, because previous teams had to measure ice loss at “a few easily accessible glaciers” and then extrapolate it to the 200,000 glaciers worldwide.

“It’s tough to get an estimate [with previous methods],” he says.

With GRACE, the team can measure wide swaths of the earth, giving them a more complete picture. “It was time to do a complete global inventory,” he says. Although the team used eight years of GRACE’s data, Wahr says it’s important to realize that melting patterns are hard to predict.

And here’s the kicker:

“Even with an eight-year estimate, it’s not clear how far into the future you can project,” he says. “A lot of people want to predict into the end of the century, but I think it’s too dangerous to do that … We don’t have enough info to know what’ll happen. There’s some ebb and flow to these things.”

Someone tell Al Gore please.


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