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Polar Ice Loss Accelerating- FACTCHECK

March 16, 2020

By Paul Homewood



Earth’s great ice sheets, Greenland and Antarctica, are now losing mass six times faster than they were in the 1990s thanks to warming conditions.

A comprehensive review of satellite data acquired at both poles is unequivocal in its assessment of accelerating trends, say scientists.

Between them, Greenland and Antarctica lost 6.4 trillion tonnes of ice in the period from 1992 to 2017.

This was sufficient to push up global sea-levels by 17.8mm.

Of that combined 17.8mm contribution to sea-level rise, 10.6mm (60 %) was due to Greenland ice losses and 7.2mm (40%) was due to Antarctica.

The combined rate of ice loss for the pair was running at about 81 billion tonnes per year in the 1990s. By the 2010s, it had climbed to 475 billion tonnes per year.

According to the IPCC, its mid-range simulations (RCP4.5) suggested global sea-levels might rise by 53cm by 2100. But the Imbie team’s studies show that ice losses from Antarctica and Greenland are actually heading to much more pessimistic outcomes, and will likely add another 17cm to those end-of-century forecasts.`



According to the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI), melting of the Greenland ice cap contributed about 0.6mm/yr to global sea level rise between 2003 and 2017 (Fig 1).

This rise has been largely at a constant rate, except between 2010 and 2012.


Figure 1 – Changes in the Greenland Ice Cap Mass



Most of the ice loss is the result of receding glacier fronts, but the DMI confirmed in Nov 2018 that glaciers have more or less maintained their area since 2012.(1)

There is therefore no evidence of accelerating ice loss since 2003.

The claim that the Greenland icecap has been losing ice at a faster rate than in the 1990s is true, but it is also a red herring and has no bearing on future rates of loss. In 2003, scientists reported that Greenland had cooled significantly between 1958 and 2001 (2).

Unsurprisingly during this period of cooling ice loss slowed markedly. Since 2001, temperatures have recovered to levels generally seen in the 1930s and 40s (Fig 2), with a resultant increase in ice loss.

The rise and fall in Greenland temperatures is linked to natural cycles, including the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, which runs on a 50 to 60 year pattern, meaning that a colder climate will likely return in the next decade or so.

Ice cores prove that Greenland was colder during the 19thC than any era since the end of the ice age. (4). It is therefore highly likely then that the Greenland icecap will continue to lose mass for the rest of this century at least.

However, it is extremely poor science to extrapolate future trends from only the upward part of a cycle. It is even worse when it is used to project accelerating trends.


Figure 2 – SW Greenland Temperature Anomalies

DMI (3)


Far from ice loss increasing in the Antarctic, scientists cannot even agree whether the ice cap is even shrinking at all.

According to a recent NASA study, the ice sheet has actually been growing, with snowfall in East Antarctica exceeding ice loss in West Antarctica. (5).

The NASA study shows that Antarctica gained 82 billion tons of ice per year between 2003 and 2008.


Ultimately of course we have tide gauges to tell us what is happening with sea levels, and the picture is consistently clear.

Globally, sea levels have been rising steadily at a rate of about 2mm a year since the late 19thC, with a slow down between the 1960s and 90s. And, as the IPCC’s latest Assessment Report pointed out, the recent rate of rise has been similar to that between 1920 and 1950. (6)

It is very likely that the mean rate of global averaged sea level rise was 1.7 [1.5 to 1.9] mm/yr between 1901 and 2010 and 3.2 [2.8 to 3.6] mm/yr between 1993 and 2010. Tide gauge and satellite altimeter data are consistent regarding the higher rate during the latter period. It is likely that similarly high rates occurred between 1920 and 1950.

IPCC AR5 (6)

Sea levels provide no evidence that the poles are losing ice at a faster rate than in the first half of the 20thC. They certainly do not support the theory that ice loss will significantly accelerate in the rest of the 21stC.


1) DMI

    2) Hanna & Cappelen –

    3) DMI –

    4) Steffensen –

    5) NASA –

    6) IPCC AR5 –

  1. It doesn't add up... permalink
    March 16, 2020 10:13 pm

    What do expect from pouring cold water on their alarmism?

  2. Ian Ridpath permalink
    March 16, 2020 10:39 pm

    Excellent analysis as ever, Paul. I keep a regular watch on the DMI’s Arctic Sea Ice Extent graph here
    and the ice coverage is currently healthier than it has been in years. Those who were stirring up alarm about the so-called ‘death spiral’ of Arctic ice a few years ago have gone quiet of late. It’s another failed prediction.

  3. grammarschoolman permalink
    March 16, 2020 10:43 pm

    Off-topic, but I wonder if you’ve seen this excellent piece by Stephen Pollard, suggesting that restrictions imposed by the virus will amount to a dummy run for ‘net-zero’ living – and that once the people have experienced it, they won’t want to do so again. A silver lining, perhaps.

  4. March 17, 2020 2:06 am

    Whether accelerating, decelerating, or not celerating, the claim to anthropogenic driven melt that can and MUST be moderated by reducing emissions requires a more direct evidence based argument.

    More on the imbie team report for the Greenland Ice Sheet:

    More about Antarctica

  5. Gary Kerkin permalink
    March 17, 2020 3:06 am

    An archive of W Robert Johnson indicates land based ice at 29.34×10^6 cubic km. (2005, This is 29.34×10^15 tonnes. 6.4 trillion tonnes of ice (6.4×10^12) represents 0.022% of the ice.

    So, it is sufficient to cite a very large number, but not to place it in perspectve as a small art of an even larger number.

  6. Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
    March 17, 2020 4:04 am

    Thanks Paul.

    17.8 mm is 0.7 inches and for sea level this is not noticeable in any ordinary way.
    I’m biased, I guess. We live 682,752 mm above sea level (and far from any shore).
    Not about to worry about this.

  7. March 17, 2020 7:16 am

    The Thwaites Glacier melt as a reason for climate action at COP26

  8. Harry Passfield permalink
    March 17, 2020 9:29 am

    I’m trying to imagine Jonathan Amos reading this as a news item: ‘During the last 25 years sea levels have risen by 3/4 of an inch”.
    I then imagine the laughter at such a ridiculous waste of BBC time (‘though not so funny that I’m paying for this).

    • Gerry, England permalink
      March 17, 2020 9:50 am

      Inch? On the EU loving BBC? 19mm it will be – or actually to those of us who have been brought up to use SI units in engineering the really annoying 1.9cm. What also gets me is the use of kilometres when all large distances in the UK are measures in miles. For road signs, even short distances must be in yards. And our railways measure in miles and chains. I was very pleased to hear the lovely Tori Herridge on Britain At Low Tide say the Solway Firth tidal range was 28 feet.

      • BLACK PEARL permalink
        March 17, 2020 5:21 pm

        Yeah totally agree about time all these introduced continental terms were reversed along with the habit of greeting etc by kissing / falsely on each cheek, especially with the virus & all.
        Why did that bloody start anyway … def not a past British habit

  9. MrGrimNasty permalink
    March 17, 2020 10:22 am

    Interesting summer in the Arctic coming up one way or the other – more proof models are useless, or an unstoppable wave of propaganda that may seal the ‘green’ deal for good?

    One prediction of record melt.

    It seems to me it’s more complicated than temperature – well clearly it is because it was colder this winter than last but we (apparently) have less volume.

    The not-warming summers may be a bit misleading – there may be more heat energy in the summer melting ice, but it won’t show up in temperature readings until all the ice has melted – like in a typical UK winter day after snow – it melts apace but the temperature hovers around freezing where there is snow cover but gets well above nearby where there is none.

  10. March 17, 2020 11:01 am

    I am still awaiting a reply to the email I sent Mr Amos questioning these figures, given last year’s global assessment of ice loss since 1962.

    Dear Mr Amos,

    I read your article on the accelerating ice loss with great interest but was just too late to comment.

    I note that you do not reference Zemp et al (2019), Global glacier mass changes and their contributions to sea-level rise from 1961 to 2016, Nature.

    Glaciers have lost more than 9 trillion tons (that is 9,625,000,000,000 tons) of ice between 1961 and 2016, which has resulted in global sea levels rising by 27 millimeters in this period.

    Using their published data between 1992 – 2016 the losses were
    Antarctica -271.052 Gt =0.8 mm sea level rise (22.66% of combined total)
    Greenland -925.257 Gt =2.8 mm sea level rise (77.34% of combined total)

    They calculate the combined loss as 1.196 trillion tonnes of ice, yet this paper claims 6.4 trillion tonnes which is 2/3 of the Global losses 1961-2016 (9.625 trillion tonnes). The data shows no acceleration in ice loss, with a significant (1%) trend of -2.99 Gt/year.

    Given that the uncertainty in the data makes drawing conclusions very difficult, why was this not mentioned in your report?

    Yours sincerely,

    Eric Huxter

  11. March 17, 2020 11:15 am

    Greenland warming of 1920-1930 and 1995-2005, Geophysical Research Letters, 33, L11707, 13 June 2006. Chylek et al.

    “We provide an analysis of Greenland temperature records to compare the current (1995–2005) warming period with the previous (1920–1930) Greenland warming.We find that the current Greenland warming is not unprecedented in recent Greenland history. Temperature increases in the two warming periods are of a similar magnitude, however, the rate of warming in 1920–1930 was about 50% higher than that in 1995–2005.

    The Greenland warming of 1920 to 1930 demonstrates that a high concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is not a necessary condition for period of warming to arise. The observed 1995-2005 temperature increase seems to be within a natural variability of Greenland climate.”

  12. March 17, 2020 11:22 am

    Whatever the trend is, linking it to human activities is still a disputed theory not a fact.

  13. March 17, 2020 2:06 pm

    According to Munk LOD should gain 0.1ms for every cm of sea level rise due to melting polar land ice, however:


    (Select LOD/date, remove tidal variations; try 6000 days)

    Leap seconds have grown more scarce of late.


  14. Coeur de Lion permalink
    March 17, 2020 4:57 pm

    Complained to the BBC quoting this and including passage from my upcoming published article which recalls Harrabin’s conspiracy and the various recent Attenborough horror stories. Concludes “the BBC will continue with alarmism all the way to COP26 at Glasgow”

  15. MrGrimNasty permalink
    March 18, 2020 10:01 am

    Nature’s retort to BBC, Antarctic sea ice puts a rocket up its……….

    • Up2snuff permalink
      March 18, 2020 11:39 am

      Mr Grim, you have to remember the BBC visit the Antarctic only in December and January. Due to Climate Change, mostly between the ears of the BBC journalists, producers and executives, there is no summer there. It has been removed by Climate Change. They do not recognise that, they see only melting ice.

      They also ask scientists to make reports on air and send journalists to the Arctic in June and July each year. Due to that same Climate Change there is no longer any summer. It has been abolished by Climate Change. They only see the melting ice.

      And they panic.

  16. March 18, 2020 10:26 am

    Meanwhile, at the Foreign Office:

    Wendy Morton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

    “Climate change is the greatest threat facing the Arctic, and it is driving other changes there too. The reduction in summer sea ice cover in the Arctic has the potential to increase international shipping activity in the Arctic; however, hostile conditions and the lack of infrastructure will make commercial operations difficult for a considerable time.”

    I presume “hostile conditions” means it is frozen solid.

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