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The Gravity of Climate Change: How Melting Ice Affects Planetary Pull

Gravitational shifts indicate "melting ice is fundamentally changing parts of the planet"

A combination of data from ESA’s GOCE mission and NASA’s Grace satellites shows the 'vertical gravity gradient change'. (Credit: DGFI/Planetary Visions/ESA)

Satellite measurements show that West Antarctica’s gravitational pull measurably decreased over three years because of lost mass due to melting ice, according to research published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Data from the European Space Agency's Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE), combined with "coarser" measurements from the NASA–German GRACE satellite, allowed scientists to look at changes in ice mass in small glacial systems and compare those to high-resolution measurements of Antarctica's gravitational field.

"They have found that the loss of ice from West Antarctica between 2009 and 2012 caused a dip in the gravity field over the region," according to a GOCE press release.

A study earlier this year showed that the world's two largest ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are melting at the fastest rates ever recorded. Another study, published in August, found that human-caused climate change has become the primary driver of glacial melt.

According to the European Space Agency, the rate at which ice is been lost from the West Antarctic ice sheet has increased by a factor of three each year since 2009.

"The gravitational fluctuation over the Antarctic Peninsula is small, but it’s further evidence that melting ice is fundamentally changing parts of the planet," Carl Engelking writes at Discover magazine's D-brief blog.

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