Time-variable gravity observations of ice sheet mass balance: Precision and limitations of the GRACE satellite data


  • I. Velicogna,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Earth System Science, University of California Irvine, Irvine, California, USA
    2. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA
    • Corresponding author: I. Velicogna, University of California Irvine, University of California, 226 Croul Hall, Irvine, CA, 92697-3100, USA. (isabella@uci.edu)

    Search for more papers by this author
  • J. Wahr

    1. Department of Physics and CIRES, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA
    Search for more papers by this author


[1] Time-variable gravity data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission have been available since 2002 to estimate the mass balance of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets. We analyze current progress and uncertainties in GRACE estimates of ice sheet mass balance. We discuss the impacts of errors associated with spherical harmonic truncation, spatial averaging, temporal sampling, and leakage from other time-dependent signals (e.g., glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA)). The largest sources of error for Antarctica are the GIA correction, the omission of l=1 terms, nontidal changes in ocean mass, and measurement errors. For Greenland, the errors come mostly from the uncertainty in the scaling factor. Using Release 5.0 (RL05) GRACE fields for January 2003 through November 2012, we find a mass change of −258 ± 41 Gt/yr for Greenland, with an acceleration of −31 ± 6 Gt/yr2, and a loss that migrated clockwise around the ice sheet margin to progressively affect the entire periphery. For Antarctica, we report changes of −83 ± 49 and −147 ± 80 Gt/yr for two GIA models, with an acceleration of −12 ± 9 Gt/yr2 and a dominance from the southeast pacific sector of West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula.