A recent study conducted by NASA reveals that the mass gains of Antarctic ice sheet are enough to outweigh the increasing losses in the region's diminishing glaciers.
The new data offers previously unrecorded gains in Antarctica, scientists say, but it challenges the conclusions of other reports such as the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) study. The IPCC's earlier report said that the continent is continuously losing land ice.
According to the new NASA research published in the Journal of Glaciology, the Antarctic ice sheet accumulated a net gain of 112 billion tons of ice per year in the period covering 1992 to 2001, but it decelerated to 82 billion tons of ice per year in the 2003 to 2008 period.
Lead researcher Jay Zwally and his colleagues assessed constantly-recorded meteorological data from 1979 up to the present time to show that the accumulation of snowfall in the eastern region of Antarctica actually decreased by 11 billion tons per year during the past two decades. The team examined historical data collected from ice cores, and discovered that snowfall from 10,000 years ago has been slowly trodden and transformed into ice over the last several millennia.
Researchers also found that the thickening of ice in the eastern region of Antarctica has remained steady from 1992 to 2008 at 200 billion tons per year, while the losses in the western region as well as in the Antarctic Peninsula skyrocketed to 65 billion tons per year.
Zwally believes that it will only take a few more decades for the accumulation of ice to reverse in numbers. He said that if the losses continued to increase at the same rate they've been growing, the losses will catch up with the gains in about 20 or 30 years, and there will not be enough snowfall increase to counter these losses.
"The good news is that Antarctica is not currently contributing to sea level rise, but is taking 0.23 millimeters per year away," Zwally said.
However, Zwally also mentioned that if the 0.27 millimeters per year of sea level rise credited to Antarctica in the IPCC report did not come from the continent, there must be some other factor to sea level rise that is not accounted for.
Researchers said the new study provides a long-term record of elevation changes which will contribute to the understanding of the problem in Antarctica's mass balance.