The Greenland Ice Sheet Has Lost 3.8 Trillion Tons of Ice

Caitlin Dempsey


A new report analyzed 26 satellite datasets to track ice loss for the Greenland Ice Sheet.  A join effort by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), the Greenland Ice Sheet has lost 3.8 trillion tons of ice between 1992 and 2018.

One of the Largest Ice Sheets on Earth

The ice sheet is one of the largest on Earth and global warming related ice loss is a significant influence on rising sea levels.  The  only permanent ice sheet outside Antarctica is located in Greenland and its melting has added 0.4 inches (11 millimeters) to sea level rise in the last 26 years.  

The study also forecasted an approximate 3 to 5 inches (70 to 130 millimeters) of global sea level rise by 2100.  Covering three-fourths of Greenland’s land mass, the Greenland Ice Sheet holds enough water to raise the sea level by 24 feet (7.4 meters).

The study was a collaboration between 89 polar scientists from 50 institutions based around the world.  The collaboration, known as the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE), used data collected from 13 NASA and ESA satellite missions to create the most accurate measurements of ice loss to date.  

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The study found that half of ice loss can be attributed to warmer air temperatures.  The other half was due to a combination of warmer ocean temperatures, iceberg calving, and an increase in the speed at which the ice sheet shed ice into the ocean.

Visualization: Mass Balance of the Greenland Ice Sheet From 1992 to 2018

This visualization shows the cumulative change in Greenland Ice Sheet thickness and the melting ice sheet’s contribution to global sea level from 1992 to 2018, with projections through 2100.

YouTube video

Access Greenland Ice Sheet Mass Changes

Data from the Greenland Ice Sheet loss study as well as for data for ice mass changes for Antarctica is available from IMBIE’s web site.

The study

Shepherd, A., Ivins, E., Rignot, E., Smith, B., van den Broeke, M., Velicogna, I., … The IMBIE Team. (2019). Mass balance of the Greenland Ice Sheet from 1992 to 2018. Nature.

Greenland’s Rapid Melt Will Mean More Flooding.  NASA.  December 10, 2019.


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.