Land’s Water Uptake Cushions Global Sea Level Rise By 20 Percent

By on February 24, 2016

Earth's land masses have stored increasing amounts of water in the last decade. (Credit: National Park Service)


While it’s clear that melting glaciers and other effects of climate change are leading to a rise in sea levels all over the Earth, what have gone unappreciated are land changes due to global warming that are mitigating sea level rise by approximately 20 percent, according to a release from the University of California, Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The counteracting of the sea level rise by land is significant. Currently, land is absorbing an additional 3.2 trillion tons of water by tucking it away in soil, lakes and underground aquifers.

Scientists were able to determine the amount of water uptake by land via satellite data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, wherein twin satellites are able to determine changes in the distance between them to the accuracy of a human hair as they orbit. The distance changes indicate changes in the Earth’s gravitational pull, which are related to the amount of water on the Earth’s surface.

Data analysis revealed changes in the land’s water storage. The data challenged previous assumptions that a net amount of water moved from land to the oceans.

Image: Earth’s land masses have stored increasing amounts of water in the last decade. (Credit: National Park Service)

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