Every year, we hear about yet another iceberg the size of Rhode Island or Delaware breaking off from the west Antarctic and the corresponding warnings about rising sea levels and the end of life as we know it. While these are truly massive displays of nature at work, this spectacle has been going on for many millennia.

A new NASA study says that an increase in Antarctic snow accumulation that began 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, is currently adding enough ice to the continent to outweigh the increased losses from its thinning glaciers.

NASA recently released a study suggesting that the Antarctic Ice Sheet is gaining more ice than it is losing—a finding that, at first blush, seems to contradict the idea of global warming. So, how can Antarctica be gaining ice mass in a warming world where ice sheets are collapsing, and the melting is predicted to increase sea levels across the globe?

It turns out that the two phenomena—a growing ice sheet and warming-related melting—are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, the NASA study, which was published Oct. 30, 2015, in the Journal of Glaciology, does not disprove global warming.

Rather, the researchers found that snow accumulation is adding more ice to East Antarctica (the huge chunk of the continent to the east of the Transantarctic Mountains) and the interior region of West Antarctica than is being lost as glaciers across Antarctica thin out and birth icebergs. More snow accumulation is, counterintuitively, a sign of global warming; more precipitation happens when there is more moisture in the air, and more moisture in the air is a product of higher temperatures, said Elizabeth Thomas, a glaciologist with the British Antarctic Survey.

According to the new analysis of satellite data, the Antarctic ice sheet showed a net gain of 112 billion tons of ice a year from 1992 to 2001. That net gain slowed to 82 billion tons of ice per year between 2003 and 2008.

“The good news is that Antarctica is not currently contributing to sea level rise, but is taking 0.23 millimeters per year away,” said Jay Zwally, a NASA glaciologist and the lead author on the study. 

The really good news is that the Antarctic holds over 91 percent of all the ice on earth and is gaining more every year, and all thanks to global warming!

Lawrence Weisdorn

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