PARIS (AFP) - Ė Estimates of the rate of ice loss from Greenland and West Antarctica, one of the most worrying questions in the global warming debate, should be halved, according to Dutch and US scientists.
In the last two years, several teams have estimated Greenland is shedding roughly 230 gigatonnes of ice, or 230 billion tonnes, per year and West Antarctica around 132 gigatonnes annually.
Together, that would account for more than half of the annual three-millimetre (0.2 inch) yearly rise in sea levels, a pace that compares dramatically with 1.8mm (0.07 inches) annually in the early 1960s.
But, according to the new study, published in the September issue of the journal Nature Geoscience, the ice estimates fail to correct for a phenomenon known as glacial isostatic adjustment.
This is the term for the rebounding of Earth's crust following the last Ice Age.
Glaciers that were kilometers (miles) thick smothered Antarctica and most of the northern hemisphere for tens of thousands of years, compressing the elastic crust beneath it with their titanic weight.
When the glaciers started to retreat around 20,000 years ago, the crust started to rebound, and is still doing so.
This movement, though, is not just a single vertical motion, lead researcher Bert Vermeersen of Delft Technical University, in the Netherlands, said in phone interview with AFP.
"A good analogy is that it's like a mattress after someone has been sleeping on it all night," he said.
The weight of the sleeper creates a hollow as the material compress downwards and outwards. When the person gets up, the mattress starts to recover. This movement, seen in close-up, is both upwards and downwards and also sideways, too, as the decompressed material expands outwards and pulls on adjacent stuffing.
Often ignored or considered a minor factor in previous research, post-glacial rebound turns out to be important, says the paper.