BY: MARIYA GUZOVA
It seems every headline concerning climate change has something to do with the melting of polar ice caps. Images of receding glaciers, emaciated polar bears, and sinking cities are the ones we find shown over and over. It’s surprising, however, to learn that the rise of sea levels has slowed down drastically as of late, by about 20 per cent.
This information stumped researchers for a long time, as the predicted effect of melting ice caps would be that their run-off water would cause the sea level to rise. But new satellite research conducted by NASA, has found that Earth’s continents have soaked up an extra 3.2 trillion tons of water in soils, lakes and underground aquifers.
The study was conducted using NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment twin satellites. The two GRACE satellites orbit the Earth, and scientists can measure the distance between them down to the width of a single human hair. This means they’re able to detect any changes in Earth’s gravitational pull that result from changes in the amount of water across the Earth’s surface. Analyzing this data allowed them to measure changes in liquid water storage on the continents, as well as changes in ice sheets and glaciers.
New satellite research conducted by NASA, has found that Earth’s continents have soaked up an extra 3.2 trillion tons of water in soils, lakes and underground aquifers.
One of the seemingly positive residual effects of this pattern is that it offsets the water losses caused by ground water pumping. Conservation of fresh water sources has been an issue of fierce debate amongst environmental activists, and with these new findings, we’re not as close to running out of fresh water sources as we may have thought.
The two GRACE satellites orbit Earth, and can detect any changes in Earth’s gravitational pull that result of changes in the amount of water across Earth’s surface.
But NASA researchers warn that this is by no means a solution to any problems. They assert that there is still a lot left to understand about what these findings mean, and that they will be a critical component for the long-term projections of sea levels. “These patterns are consistent with earlier observations of changing precipitation over both land and oceans, and with IPCC projections of changing precipitation under a warming climate,” said NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory senior water scientist Jay Famiglietti. “But we’ll need a much longer data record to fully understand the underlying cause of the patterns and whether they will persist.”
NASA urges climate change summits to take hydrology into account when discussing plans and budgets surrounding sea levels, and hope that this research will help us fully understand and solve the problem of climate change.