Antarctic and Greenland ice — cold heart of deception

A reader remarked on our discussion of dangerous sea level rise, asking:

Where is all that ice that is dissapearing [sic] from glaciers and land based ice sheets going to end up and why if the decline of glaciers and land based ice sheets is accelerating will sea level rise not accelerate with it?

I asked for a reference to quantify “all” the ice that’s disappearing and to verify the ice melt acceleration. So he sent some, then mentioned studies of the decade-long GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellite data that show ice loss accelerating in Greenland and West Antarctica. Note that’s not the whole continent; I don’t know why he focussed on the WAIS — perhaps West Antarctica is known to be accumulating ice, which doesn’t fit his narrative.

Anyway, he said West Antarctica is losing 118 gigatons* per year and Greenland is losing 303 gigatons.

But is that a little or a lot? The activists don’t tell us, they just mention “gigatons” and wait for us to gasp with shock. But it’s easy for us to get a sensible guide to the importance of this amount of ice loss, and Wikipedia is a good tool. For objective data, many people acknowledge Wikipedia as a reliable source, though one must be more discerning with contentious topics.

Basic facts

Volume of a gigaton of ice

1 gigatonne (Gt) = 1 cubic kilometre (km3) – Climate Sanity

Volume of Antarctic ice

26.5 million km3Wikipedia

Volume of Greenland ice

2.85 million km3Wikipedia

Annual loss

This is troublesome, since conflicting studies are readily available, some showing net Antarctic loss, some showing net gain. Our reader cited the following figures from NASA, which are difficult to argue with. But it turns out that the losses are trivial and untroubling, as I shall show.

Several studies have shown that different remote sensing methods for studying ice sheet mass balance agree well. GRACE’s record, spanning over a decade, shows that the ice loss is accelerating in Greenland and West Antarctica. Greenland has shed, on average, 303 gigatons of ice every year since 2004, while Antarctica has lost, on average, 118 gigatons of ice per year, with most of the loss coming from West Antarctica. Greenland’s ice loss has accelerated by 31 gigatons of ice per year every year since 2004, while West Antarctica has experienced an ice mass loss acceleration of 28 gigatons per year.

Antarctica: 118 Gt = 118 km3NASA
(0.0004% of all Antarctic ice)
Greenland: 303 Gt = 303 km3NASA
(0.011% of all Greenland ice)

Time for ice to vanish

Antarctica: 225,000 years
Greenland: 9,400 years

Finally, for a meaningful comparison, I thought I’d calculate the mass of annual precipitation over Greenland. It turns out to be quite a bit.

Average annual Greenland precipitation

821 mm – Climate Data

Area of Greenland

2.166 million km3Wikipedia

Volume of Greenland precipitation

1778 km3

Mass of Greenland precipitation

1778 Gt (1,788,000,000,000 tons)

Divide 1778 km3 by 303 km3 (the annual ice loss) and it turns out, ladies and gentlemen, that every year nearly six times the claimed annual ice loss falls on Greenland as rain, snow and hail. I put it to you that the Greenland ice sheet will be with us for many thousands of years.


Nobody can credibly claim that this reported ice loss should cause concern—the loss is just too small, even minuscule. Scientists who imply concern must be knowingly misleading us—or don’t they know the size of Greenland or Antarctica? Most of them avoid clear statements, rather choosing vague expressions such as “could”, “may”, “is in danger of”, “during the Paleocene” (or insert favourite epoch) and similar weasel phrases that give them some small defence if questioned that they never actually committed themselves to the lies told by warmist activists so it’s not their fault, really it isn’t.

But by the same token they remain open to accusations of never having corrected the lies spread far and wide by activists, though they clearly knew better.

In any case, when we know the true scale of these physical climate changes, we have a sturdy defence against spending large amounts of public money that are sorely needed for real social problems.

* US (short) tons, UK (long) tons and metric tonnes: there’s a difference, to be sure, but not so much as to derail the argument made here for the insignificance of ice loss.

9 Thoughts on “Antarctic and Greenland ice — cold heart of deception

  1. Andy on May 1, 2016 at 8:04 pm said:

    Thanks for a succinct and clear explanation of some of the numbers involved.

  2. Mike Jowsey on May 1, 2016 at 8:47 pm said:

    but but but… sea level rise … and acidification… and Nibiru… because ice gigatons!

  3. mwhite on May 3, 2016 at 3:14 am said:

    “By far the largest number of local glaciers in north-east Greenland had receded very greatly during recent
    decades, and it would not be exaggerating to say that these glaciers were nearing a catastrophe.”

    Monday 6th May 1940

    Catastrophe? Still waiting.

  4. Richard C (NZ) on May 3, 2016 at 10:30 am said:

    ‘Year-long study reveals secret of Greenland’s growing ice sheet’

    Written by Thomas Richard, on 02 May 2016.

    A new study of Greenland’s ice sheet shows that very little precipitation on the island’s expansive interior is “lost to the atmosphere through evaporation” because of the island’s unique thermal “lid.” This remarkable thermal lid essentially prevents any snow and ice from escaping the island via evaporation, allowing the ice sheet to continuously build up on the island. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the study was published in the open access online-only journal “Science Advances.” This is more evidence that Greenland’s ice sheet is robust and stable, even though computer models claimed it would be the first casualty in a warming world.


    Based on new measurements from a research tower on the Greenland ice sheet, the study’s authors uncovered how snow piles up on the ice sheet year after year. According to the study’s principal investigator David Noone, an Oregon State University professor and atmospheric scientist, he says: “Normally, the air temperature goes down as you climb, but near the surface in Greenland, it gets warmer,” adding, “The surface is very cold, but it can be as much as 20 degrees warmer just 30 to 40 feet up in the air. It’s enough that you can feel the difference between your nose and your toes.”

    In most places, the higher up from sea level you go, the colder it gets. Greenland is a little different in that the higher you go, the warmer it gets. “The temperature difference effectively forms a lid so that there is hardly any evaporation. Warm air likes to rise, but if it is already warmer up above the air is trapped nearer the ground,” Noone says. As water evaporates from the ice sheet’s surface, layers of fog form after the water evaporates. These “fog water-drops drift back down to the very cold surface where it refreezes onto the ice sheet.”

    Noone says this is a “handy little trick of nature.” The study’s lead author, Max Berkelhammer, a researcher at the University of Illinois, indicates that scientists have known about these “accumulation zones” on high-altitude areas of Greenland’s ice sheet. But because it is difficult to do an in-depth analysis of evaporation and condensation over extended periods of time, this is the first time a research group has been able to monitor this phenomenon for an entire year.


  5. Richard Treadgold on May 7, 2016 at 1:17 pm said:

    Interesting discovery. Might explain why the gravity anomaly instruments come up with such tiny amounts of change in the mass balance, while thermal calculations continue to suggest a greater mass of water is evaporated. It has been, but quickly recondensed and froze.

  6. Andy on May 9, 2016 at 3:52 pm said:

    There is some news that parts of the Solomon Islands have sunk due to sea level rise.

    Caused by climate change, naturally

  7. Andy on May 10, 2016 at 10:48 am said:

    This page has quite an interesting interactive graphic showing ice mass balance in Antarctica

    Some basins are decreasing, some increasing.

    East Antarctica appears to be gaining ice mass

  8. Andy on May 10, 2016 at 2:38 pm said:

    This is quite a useful formula from the Climate Sanity page

    Sea level rise =
    2.78 microns / Gt

    That is, one cubic kilometer of water (i.e., one gigatonne of water) will add less than 3 millionths of a meter to the oceans

    The total ice loss acceleration from Greenland and WAIS is around 60Gt/yr = 60 * 2.78 = 167 microns per year
    1 micron = 10^-6m

    167 microns = 0.167mm a year of global SLR acceleration.
    However, there are other areas (e.g East Antarctica) that appear to be gaining mass according to the site linked above.

    This presumed acceleration isn’t presenting itself in tidal gauge data.

  9. Mike Houlding on May 17, 2016 at 7:33 pm said:

    “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it. H. L. Mencken

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post Navigation