Volume of Earth’s Polar Ice Caps

The Physics Factbook
Edited by Glenn Elert — Written by his students
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Bibliographic Entry Result
(w/surrounding text)
Spaulding & Markowitz, Heath Earth Science. Heath, 1994: 195. "The Greenland glacier is about 1,700,000 km2 and up to 3 km in thickness." < 5.1 × 106 km3
"The Antarctic glacier covers a larger landmass with an area of about 12.5 million km2 and reaches a thickness of nearly 5 km." < 62.5 × 106 km3
"Greenland." World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book, 1999: 325. "It covers 672,000 mi2 (1,740,500 km2) or about 4/5 of the island. The ice caps average over 1 mile (1.6 km) thick, and a thickness of over 2 miles (3.2 km) has been measured." 2.8 × 106 km3
"Antarctica." World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book, 1999: 532. "Its volume of 7¼ million cubic miles (30 million km3) represents about 70% of the world’s fresh water." 30 × 106 km3
Williams, Richard S. Jr., & Jane G. Ferrigno. Estimated present-day area and volume of glaciers and maximum sea level rise potential. Satellite Image Atlas of Glaciers of the World. US Geological Survey (USGS). "Geographic region: Greenland
Percent: 10.82
Volume: 2,600,000 km3
Percent: 7.9
Maximum sea level rise potential: 6.5 m
Area: 1,736,095 km2"
2.6 × 106 km3
"Geographic region: Antarctica
Percent: 84.64
Volume: 30,109,800 km3
Percent: 91.49
Maximum sea level rise potential: 73.44 m
Area: 13,586,400 km2"
30.1098 × 106 km3
Schultz, Gwen. Ice Age Lost. 1974. 232, 75. "The US geological survey gives these figures: The Greenland ice cap with its volume of 630,000 cubic miles, if melted could yield enough water to maintain the Mississippi river for over 4,700 years." 2.6 × 106 km3
"It has been calculated that if Antarctica’s approximately 6,000,000 cubic miles of ice should melt, the level of the oceans all over the world would rise 200 feet." 25 × 106 km3
Denmark/Greenland. Greenland Tourism. Danish Tourist Board. "The ice cap or inland ice covers 1,833,900 square km, equivalent to 85 percent of Greenland’s total area, and extends 2,500 km (1,553 miles) from north to south and up to 1,000 km from east to west. At its center, the ice can be up to 3 km thick, representing 10 percent of the world’s total fresh water reserves. If all the ice were to melt, the world’s oceans would rise seven meters." < 5.5 × 106 km3
Erickson, Jon. "Glacial Geology."1996, 161. "The ice sheet rises nearly 3 miles in places, with an average thickness of over 7,000 feet amounting to about 7 million cubic miles of ice." 29 × 106 km3

An ice cap is defined as a thick permanent covering of ice and snow on land. This permanent layer extends outward in every direction. In this case, it extends from the north pole and the south pole. Ice caps were formed millions of years ago from layers of snow that were compressed together for millions of years. Between these layers, grains of snow were forced out as the bottom layers hardened into ice. Today, ice caps form over 80% of the fresh water on earth.

Ice caps are also called ice sheets or continental glaciers. They are composed of ice domes, ice lobes, and outlet glaciers and are surrounded by cold, ocean currents. As a result, the land is constantly being cooled. Ice caps are either in a circular or an oval shape. Due to their great weight, they are constantly sliding towards the coasts. In Antarctica, the thickest parts of the ice cap dip approximately 2 miles below sea level.

Ice caps are found in several places in the Arctic region (Greenland, Iceland, Baffin Island, and the island of Spitsbergen) and over most of the Antarctic region. Approximately 90% of the ice on earth, is found either in Greenland or in Antarctica. The largest ice caps on the planet are found there. Greenland is a plateau surrounded by mountains. Antarctica is composed of mountains, valleys, and lowlands. From my research, I have found different values for the volume of the polar ice caps. For Antarctica, the approximate volume is 30,000,000 km3. For Greenland, it is approximately 3,000,000 km3.

The volume of the polar ice caps is very important, because it may provide answers to future problems regarding the earth’s fresh water. In the future, fresh water in the other six continents might be depleted. Since ice caps contain over 80% of the earth’s fresh water, they could be used in the future to provide fresh water for earth’s growing population.

Since the 1900s, the climates of Antarctica and Greenland have been gradually warming. Since 1850, the mean temperature of the earth has risen by one Celsius degree. As temperature rises, glaciers will melt, especially the ones outside of the north and south poles. By 2100, melting glaciers will contribute to a sea level rise of 50 cm. This will cause coastal flooding.

Hanna Berenblit — 2000

Bibliographic Entry Result
(w/surrounding text)
Debenedetti, Pablo G. & H. Eugene Stanley. "Supercooled and Glassy Water."Physics Today. Vol. 56, No. 6 (June 2003): 40. "Water is not only fascinating, but it is also one of the most important and ubiquitous substances on Earth. There are 1.3 × 109 km3 of water in the oceans, 3.3 × 107 km3 in the polar ice caps, 2 × 105 km3 in glaciers, 105 km3 in lakes, and 1.2 × 103 km3 in rivers. In addition, 2.2 × 105 km3 of water fall annually as precipitation." 33 × 106 km3

Editor’s Supplement — 2003

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