This article presents a consistent record of mass balance for the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets over the past two decades, validated by the comparison of two independent techniques over the last 8 years: one differencing perimeter loss from net accumulation, and one using a dense time series of time-variable gravity. We find excellent agreement between the two techniques for absolute mass loss and acceleration of mass loss. In 2006, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets experienced a combined mass loss of 475 ± 158 Gt/yr, equivalent to 1.3 ± 0.4 mm/yr sea level rise. Notably, the acceleration in ice sheet loss over the last 18 years was 21.9 ± 1 Gt/yr2 for Greenland and 14.5 ± 2 Gt/yr2 for Antarctica, for a combined total of 36.3 ± 2 Gt/yr2. This acceleration is 3 times larger than for mountain glaciers and ice caps (12 ± 6 Gt/yr2). If this trend continues, ice sheets will be the dominant contributor to sea level rise in the 21st century.

GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 38, L05503, 5 PP., 2011