Fact check: NASA Antarctic ice sheet data consistent with global warming

The claim: NASA Antarctic ice sheet study shows global warming is a 'con'

A Jan. 31 Facebook post features a link to a 2015 NASA press release announcing research that concluded the Antarctic ice sheet gained ice between 1992 and 2008.

"Let's have a little truth about global warming," reads the post's caption (direct link, archive link). "It's a con. Promoted by the media!!! NASA study shows Antarctica's ice sheet is growing much faster than any attrition. This 2016 (sic) study has largely been obscured and forgotten in a global warming hysteria, that has overwhelmed the thinking of so many impressionable people."

The post garnered over 40 shares in a month.

Follow us on Facebook! Like our page to get updates throughout the day on our latest debunks

Our rating: False

The 2015 study referenced in the post did not challenge the existence of global warming, according to the study's author. Instead, the paper explicitly stated climate change was causing ice loss in parts of Antarctica. However, the authors concluded that ice gains from snowfall in other areas of the continent made up for the losses, resulting in a net gain. Other NASA-backed studies have concluded that the Antarctic ice sheet is losing ice.

Study affirms climate change

Jay Zwally, a researcher at NASA Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory and the lead author of the 2015 paper, told USA TODAY the paper does not disprove climate change.

"Some climate deniers misuse our results," he said in an email. "Our results definitely do NOT show that man-induced global warming is not happening!"

In fact, the first sentence of the 2015 paper affirms the existence of climate change. It reads: "Mass changes of the Antarctic ice sheet impact sea-level rise as climate changes, but recent rates have been uncertain."

Fact check: Misleading claim that high Northern Hemisphere snow cover means no global warming

The paper concludes that increased Antarctic snow accumulation that began roughly 10,000 years ago was still adding enough mass to the ice sheet to counteract the effects of climate change-related losses on the western coast. The study only reported data through 2008.

Other NASA studies find consistent mass losses from Antarctica

While Antarctic ice gain would not disprove global warming, other scientists say there actually is no gain.

Other studies that use different methods to measure the ice sheet have found consistent ice losses, Brooke Medley, a NASA cryosphere scientist, told USA TODAY in an email.

For instance, the NASA Vital Signs of the Planet webpage reports consistent mass losses since 2002. This data is based on the NASA GRACE satellite missions, which use gravitational measurements to calculate the changing mass of the ice sheet.

"It is basically weighing the ice sheet and tracking how it changes through time," Medley said. "The 2015 paper uses altimetry, which measures the thickness change of the ice sheet."

These altimetry measurements must be converted to mass measurements, "which adds a significant amount of uncertainty to the altimetry-derived results from the 2015 paper," Medley said.

Fact check: False claim that Arctic, Antarctic ice reached record highs

Eric Rignot, a NASA climate scientist, also told USA TODAY in an email that the methods used in the 2015 study introduced too much uncertainty to be reliable. Rignot published a 2019 paper that reported consistent losses from the Antarctic ice sheet since 1979.

Karen Fox, a NASA spokesperson, told USA TODAY in an email that the GRACE data showing Antarctic ice sheet mass loss are consistent with the results of the "Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise – an effort jointly funded by NASA and the European Space Agency to reconcile satellite measurements of ice sheet mass balance."

Zwally, who authored the study that found the ice sheet grew, said GRACE data does not take certain geological processes into account.

However, he has since published a follow-up paper that concluded that, as of 2016, the Antarctic ice sheet was not gaining mass.

Instead, he and his colleagues reported that it was roughly in "balance," not gaining or losing a significant amount of ice overall, due to escalating global warming-induced melting of West Antarctica.

Global warming, and its effects, have been documented by scientists

Multiple independent climate agencies have reported that global temperatures are rising. In addition to directly measuring increasing temperatures, researchers have documented the effects of global warming such as sea level rise, loss of Arctic sea ice and mass losses from ice sheets in both Antarctica and Greenland as well as from glaciers.

Fact check: In Norway, land is rising faster than sea level is falling

The Facebook user who posted the claim could not be reached.

Our fact-check sources:

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Antarctic ice sheet mass study shows global warming