Keep Watching the Ice

Meet the satellites bringing data to the discussion of global warming

Orbital platforms can bolster or challenge global climate change theories. Satellites have confirmed a 500,000- square-mile reduction of Arctic Sea ice since 1979. (NASA)
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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.

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