Review article: Earth's ice imbalance

Thomas Slater*, Isobel R. Lawrence, Ines N. Otosaka, Andrew Shepherd, Noel Gourmelen, Livia Jakob, Paul Tepes, Lin Gilbert, Peter Nienow

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


We combine satellite observations and numerical models to show that Earth lost 28 trillion tonnes of ice between 1994 and 2017. Arctic sea ice (7.6 trillion tonnes), Antarctic ice shelves (6.5 trillion tonnes), mountain glaciers (6.1 trillion tonnes), the Greenland ice sheet (3.8 trillion tonnes), the Antarctic ice sheet (2.5 trillion tonnes), and Southern Ocean sea ice (0.9 trillion tonnes) have all decreased in mass. Just over half (58 %) of the ice loss was from the Northern Hemisphere, and the remainder (42 %) was from the Southern Hemisphere. The rate of ice loss has risen by 57 % since the 1990s - from 0.8 to 1.2 trillion tonnes per year - owing to increased losses from mountain glaciers, Antarctica, Greenland and from Antarctic ice shelves. During the same period, the loss of grounded ice from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets and mountain glaciers raised the global sea level by 34.6 ± 3.1 mm. The majority of all ice losses were driven by atmospheric melting (68 % from Arctic sea ice, mountain glaciers ice shelf calving and ice sheet surface mass balance), with the remaining losses (32 % from ice sheet discharge and ice shelf thinning) being driven by oceanic melting. Altogether, these elements of the cryosphere have taken up 3.2 % of the global energy imbalance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-246
Number of pages14
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes

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