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2 min read

Is Polar Ice Melting? We Asked a NASA Scientist: Episode 36

Is polar ice melting?

The simple and straightforward answer is yes. It is, in fact, melting. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. You can think of ice sheets or Antarctica and Greenland as a bathtub full of water. And we want to know how much is going into that bathtub and how much is coming out.

So, for instance, snow falling over the ice sheet is like running the faucet. You turn on the faucet, it fills up with water, and then melting when you get a warm atmosphere or a warm ocean, it’s opening up the drain and letting water out. So it’s not just about melting. It’s also about how much snow falls and what the balance is there. 

At NASA, we are able to monitor both Antarctica and Greenland really easily from space. And we have satellite lasers that actually measure the thickness of the ice through time. And so we can actually monitor where the ice sheets are thinning and most rapidly losing mass into the ocean.

So, is polar ice melting? The answer is yes. And at present it is the number one contributor to sea level rise. And that’s why NASA has scientists like myself studying the relationship between ice sheets and sea level every day. Explore more: https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/ice-sheets/

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