December 8, 2023

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We asked a NASA scientist: Is the polar ice melting?

We asked a NASA scientist: Is the polar ice melting?

The polar ice is already melting, a process not only related to the melting itself, but also to the balance between snowfall and snowmelt. NASA’s lasers monitor ice thicknesses in Antarctica and Greenland, locating where ice sheets are thinning and losing mass most rapidly in the ocean. As of now, the melting of polar ice is the main contributor to sea level rise, which has prompted scientists to constantly study the relationship between ice sheets and sea levels.

Is the polar ice melting?

The simple and direct answer is yes. It actually melts. But it’s a little more complicated than that. You can think of the ice sheets or Antarctica and Greenland as a bathtub full of water. And we want to know how much goes into that bathtub and how much comes out.

So, for example, snow falling on the ice sheet is like turning on a tap. You turn on the faucet, it fills with water, then it melts when you get warm weather or warm surroundings, it opens the drain and lets the water come out. So it’s not just about melting. It also has to do with how much snow falls and what balance there is.


Is the polar ice melting? The realistic answer is yes, and it is the number one contributor to sea level rise.[{” attribute=””>NASA scientist Dr. Brooke Medley tells us how NASA studies the relationship between ice sheets and sea level to better understand our changing planet. Credit: NASA

At NASA, we are able to monitor both Antarctica and Greenland really easily from space. And we have satellite lasers that actually measure the thickness of the ice through time. And so we can actually monitor where the ice sheets are thinning and most rapidly losing mass into the ocean.

So, is polar ice melting? The answer is yes. And at present it is the number one contributor to sea level rise. And that’s why NASA has scientists like myself studying the relationship between ice sheets and sea level every day.

We Asked a NASA Expert Video Series

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