Surveys in Geophysics

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 351-376

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Overview and Assessment of Antarctic Ice-Sheet Mass Balance Estimates: 1992–2009

  • H. Jay ZwallyAffiliated withCryospheric Sciences Branch Code 614. 1, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Email author 
  • , Mario B. GiovinettoAffiliated withSGT Inc, Cryospheric Sciences Branch Code 614. 1, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


Mass balance estimates for the Antarctic Ice Sheet (AIS) in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and in more recent reports lie between approximately +50 to −250 Gt/year for 1992 to 2009. The 300 Gt/year range is approximately 15% of the annual mass input and 0.8 mm/year Sea Level Equivalent (SLE). Two estimates from radar altimeter measurements of elevation change by European Remote-sensing Satellites (ERS) (+28 and −31 Gt/year) lie in the upper part, whereas estimates from the Input-minus-Output Method (IOM) and the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) lie in the lower part (−40 to −246 Gt/year). We compare the various estimates, discuss the methodology used, and critically assess the results. We also modify the IOM estimate using (1) an alternate extrapolation to estimate the discharge from the non-observed 15% of the periphery, and (2) substitution of input from a field data compilation for input from an atmospheric model in 6% of area. The modified IOM estimate reduces the loss from 136 Gt/year to 13 Gt/year. Two ERS-based estimates, the modified IOM, and a GRACE-based estimate for observations within 1992–2005 lie in a narrowed range of +27 to −40 Gt/year, which is about 3% of the annual mass input and only 0.2 mm/year SLE. Our preferred estimate for 1992–2001 is −47 Gt/year for West Antarctica, +16 Gt/year for East Antarctica, and −31 Gt/year overall (+0.1 mm/year SLE), not including part of the Antarctic Peninsula (1.07% of the AIS area). Although recent reports of large and increasing rates of mass loss with time from GRACE-based studies cite agreement with IOM results, our evaluation does not support that conclusion.


Antarctica Ice sheet Mass balance ERS GRACE ICESat Input output fluxes