Energy & Environment

NASA says Antarctica and Greenland lost enough ice to fill Lake Michigan over last 16 years

photo of polar bear
Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson Churchill Manitoba

Antarctica and Greenland lost thousands of gigatons of ice in the last 16 years, according to results from a new NASA mission published Thursday.

Scientists reported that the two land masses have lost 5,000 gigatons of ice in that time period, which is enough to fill Lake Michigan. A gigaton is equal to a billion metric tons. 

The data was measured by ICESat-2, a NASA satellite launched in 2018, following a mission from ICESat that gathered data from 2003 to 2009. Using information from both missions, researchers calculated the scale of melting.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said last week that Arctic ice reached its second-lowest extent on record in 2019. NOAA also said earlier this month that they are projecting 2020 will be the hottest year on record, surpassing a record set in 2016. 

The loss in Arctic ice is expected to result in rising sea levels globally. 

“It will reach us eventually here, even though it’s really far away and hard to think about,” said Helen Fricker, a glaciologist with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego told NPR. 

“How much ice we are going to lose, and how quickly we are going to lose it, is a really key thing that needs to be understood, so that we can plan.”


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