The faster glaciers slide downhill, the quicker they melt or break apart in the warming seas. In a 2002 paper in Science, Zwally wrote that his melt acceleration theory appears to be more than a seasonal effect. It is “a mechanism for rapid, large-scale, dynamic responses of ice sheets to climate warming,” he wrote.
More discoveries like these are expected: Glaciologists say they are just at the beginning of understanding Earth’s ice. “Until very recently we didn’t really know whether Greenland or Antarctica were shrinking or growing,” says Zwally.
Now that there is agreement that both are losing ice, it’s up to GRACE and ICESat to tell scientists exactly how much. The results may bring much-needed clarity to the continuing questions over the potential effects of global warming.