Satellite images of Antarctica between 1992 and 2006 indicate that the continent was losing ice much faster at the end of that period than it was a decade before.
Snow that falls on Antarctica makes its way to the sea as ice via glaciers, some of which flow faster than others (SN: 3/31/07, p. 202). Using data gathered by Earth-orbiting crafts, Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and his colleagues determined the thickness of ice fringing the continent's coast. That data, combined with the speed of the ice streams and estimates of the continent's snowfall, allowed the team to estimate Antarctica's ice loss each year.
East Antarctica, home to the largest of the continent's ice sheets, is fairly stable, losing only about 4 billion metric tons of ice each year, says Rignot. However, data suggest that ice loss elsewhere has accelerated, the team reports in the February Nature Geosc