Journal of Geodesy

, Volume 87, Issue 4, pp 387–392 | Cite as

Bias in GRACE estimates of ice mass change due to accompanying sea-level change

  • M. G. Sterenborg
  • E. Morrow
  • J. X. Mitrovica
Original article


Observations of spatio-temporal variations in the geopotential using the GRACE satellites have been used to estimate recent mass fluxes from polar ice sheets and glaciers. However, these estimates have not considered the potential bias associated with the migration of water that accompanies the ice melt. This migration is driven by the diminished gravitational attraction of the melting ice reservoir, and this migration, as well as the crustal loading it induces, will contribute to the observed geopotential anomaly. The extent to which this contribution contaminates the ice mass flux estimates depends on how far the smoothing filters applied to the GRACE data extend beyond the ice margins into the ocean. Using the Antarctic Peninsula as a case study, we estimate the magnitude of this bias for a range of melt areas and Gaussian smoothing filter radii. We conclude that GRACE estimates of ice mass loss over the Antarctic Peninsula are systematically overestimating the loss by up to 10 \(\%\) for filter radii of less than 500 km.


GRACE Satellite gravity Ice mass change estimates Hydrology Sea level change 



The authors would like to thank Frederik J. Simons for the use of his MATLAB code library, and Chris Harig for useful discussions. MGS was supported by a Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Postdoctoral Fellowship (CIFAR).


  1. Chambers DP, Wahr J, Nerem RS (2004) Preliminary observations of global ocean mass variations with GRACE. Geophys Res Lett 31:L13310. doi: 10.1029/2004GL020461 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Chambers DP, Tamisiea ME, Nerem RS, Ries JC (2007) Effects of ice melting on grace observations of ocean mass trends. Geophys Res Lett 34(5):L05,610. doi: 10.1029/2006GL029171
  3. Chen JL, Wilson CR, Tapley BD, Blankenship D, Young D (2008) Antarctic regional ice loss rates from GRACE. Earth Planet Sci Lett 266:140–148. doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2007.10.057 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Gomez N, Mitrovica JX, Tamisiea ME, Clark PU (2010) A new projection of sea level change in response to collapse of marine sectors of the Antarctic ice sheet. Geophys J Int 180:623–634. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-246X.2009.04419.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Han S, Simons FJ (2008) Spatiospectral localization of global geopotential fields from the gravity recovery and climate experiment (GRACE) reveals the coseismic gravity change owing to the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake. J Geophys Res 113:B01,405. doi: 10.1029/2007JB004927
  6. Ivins ER, Watkins MM, Yuan D, Dietrich R, Casassa G, Rülke A (2011) On-land ice loss and glacial isostatic adjustment at the drake passage: 2003–2009. J Geophys Res 116:B02,403. doi: 10.1029/2010JB007607
  7. Jacob T, Wahr J, Pfeffer WT, Swenson S (2012) Recent contributions of glaciers and ice caps to sea level rise. Nature 483. doi: 10.1038/nature10847
  8. Jeans JH (1923) The propagation of earthquake waves. R Soc Lond Proc Ser A 102:554–574 Google Scholar
  9. Kendall RA, Mitrovica JX, Milne GA (2005) On post-glacial sea level - II. Numerical formulation and comparative results on spherically symmetric models. Geophys J Int 161:679–706. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-246X.2005.02553.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Luthcke SB, Zwally HJ, Abdalati W, Rowlands DD, Ray RD, Nerem RS, Lemoine FG, McCarthy JJ, Chinn DS (2006) Recent Greenland ice mass loss by drainage system from satellite gravity observations. Science 314:1286–1289. doi: 10.1126/science.1130776 Google Scholar
  11. Milne GA, Mitrovica JX (1998) Postglacial sea-level change on a rotating Earth. Geophys J Int 133:1–19. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-246X.1998.1331528.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Riva REM, Bamber JL, Lavallée DA, Wouters B (2011) Sea-level fingerprint of continental water and ice mass change from GRACE. Geophys Res Lett 37:L19605. doi: 10.1029/2010GL044770 Google Scholar
  13. Rowlands DD, Luthcke SB, Klosko SM, Lemoine FGR, Chinn DS, McCarthy JJ, Cox CM, Anderson OB (2005) Post-processing removal of correlated errors in GRACE data. Geophys Res Lett 32:L04310. doi: 10.1029/2004GL021908 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Simons FJ, Dahlen FA (2006) Spherical Slepian functions and the polar gap in geodesy. Geophys J Int 166:1039–1061. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-246X.2006.03065.x. arXiv:math/0603271Google Scholar
  15. Swenson S, Wahr J (2002) Methods for inferring regional surface-mass anomalies from gravity recovery and climate experiment (GRACE) measurements of time-variable gravity. J Geophys Res 107(B9):2193. doi: 10.1029/2001JB000576 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Swenson S, Wahr J (2006) Post-processing removal of correlated errors in GRACE data. Geophys Res Lett 33:L08402. doi: 10.1029/2005GL025285 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Tamisiea ME, Mitrovica JX, Davis JL (2007) GRACE gravity data constrain ancient ice geometries and continental dynamics over Laurentia. Science 316:881–883. doi: 10.1126/science.1137157 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Tamisiea ME, Hill EM, Ponte RM, Davis JL, Velicogna I (2010) Impact of self-attraction and loading on the annual cycle in sea level. J Geophys Res (Oceans) 115(C14):C07004. doi: 10.1029/2009JC005687 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Tapley BD, Bettadpur S, Ries JC, Thompson PF, Watkins MM (2004) GRACE measurements of mass variability in the Earth system. Science 305:503–506. doi: 10.1126/science.1099192 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Velicogna I, Wahr J (2006a) Acceleration of Greenland ice mass loss in spring. Nature 443:329–331. doi: 10.1038/nature05168 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Velicogna I, Wahr J (2006b) Measurements of time-variable gravity show mass loss in Antarctica. Science 311:1754–1756. doi: 10.1126/science.1123785 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Wahr J, Swenson S, Zlotnicki V, Velicogna I (2004) Time-variable gravity from GRACE: first results. Geophys Res Lett 31:L11501. doi: 10.1029/2004GL019779 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Wahr J, Swenson S, Velicogna I (2006) Accuracy of GRACE mass estimates. Geophys Res Lett 33:L06401. doi: 10.1029/2005GL025305 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. G. Sterenborg
    • 1
  • E. Morrow
    • 2
  • J. X. Mitrovica
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of GeosciencesPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Earth and Planetary SciencesHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations