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Science. 2008 Jun 20;320(5883):1626-9. doi: 10.1126/science.1153894. Epub 2008 May 29.

Elevation changes in Antarctica mainly determined by accumulation variability.

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  • 1Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, Utrecht University, 3584 CC Utrecht, Netherlands.


Antarctic Ice Sheet elevation changes, which are used to estimate changes in the mass of the interior regions, are caused by variations in the depth of the firn layer. We quantified the effects of temperature and accumulation variability on firn layer thickness by simulating the 1980-2004 Antarctic firn depth variability. For most of Antarctica, the magnitudes of firn depth changes were comparable to those of observed ice sheet elevation changes. The current satellite observational period ( approximately 15 years) is too short to neglect these fluctuations in firn depth when computing recent ice sheet mass changes. The amount of surface lowering in the Amundsen Sea Embayment revealed by satellite radar altimetry (1995-2003) was increased by including firn depth fluctuations, while a large area of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet slowly grew as a result of increased accumulation.

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