Indicator Specification

Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets

Indicator Specification
  Indicator codes: CLIM 009
Published 25 Feb 2020 Last modified 04 Oct 2021
7 min read
This page was archived on 04 Oct 2021 with reason: No more updates will be done
Cumulative ice mass loss and sea-level equivalent from Greenland and Antarctica.

This indicator has been archived and will no longer be updated.
Information on the development of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets is available from the indicator "Ice sheets" maintained by the Copernicus Climate Change Service:

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)
  • No published assessments


Justification for indicator selection

The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are important in the global climate system. This indicator documents recent changes in the ice sheets and discusses the potential consequences associated with projections. Note that the land-based, permanent Antarctic ice sheet should not be confused with Antarctic sea ice, which covers the ocean and changes strongly with the seasons. Together, the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets contain more than 99 % of the freshwater ice on Earth.

The change in the amount of ice in the ice sheets, known as the ‘mass balance’, is an important indicator that can document loss of ice. An increased rate of mass loss results in a faster rise in the global mean sea level. A net mass loss of 362.5 billion tonnes corresponds to a 1 mm sea level rise. Owing to gravitational forces, the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet contributes more to sea level rise in the northern hemisphere than the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. In addition, meltwater from the ice sheets reduces the salinity of the surrounding ocean, with potential feedback to the climate system.

An upper layer of fresher water may reduce the formation of dense deep water, one of the mechanisms driving global ocean circulation. Recent freshening in the vicinity of Greenland has contributed to changes that may weaken the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, with cooler winters and summers around the North Atlantic a potential consequence, but uncertainties are still significant.

Scientific references

  • No rationale references available

Indicator definition

  • Cumulative ice mass loss and sea-level equivalent from Greenland and Antarctica.


  • Gigatonnes (Gt).
  • Equivalent rise in sea level (mm).

Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2013, the European Commission presented the EU adaptation strategy package. This package consists of the EU strategy on adaptation to climate change (COM/2013/216 final) and a number of supporting documents. The overall aim of the EU adaptation strategy is to contribute to a more climate-resilient Europe. One of the objectives of the EU adaptation strategy is to allow 'Better informed decision-making'. This will be achieved by bridging knowledge gaps and further developing the European climate adaptation platform (Climate-ADAPT) as the ‘first-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Climate-ADAPT has been developed jointly by the European Commission and the European Environment Agency (EEA) to share knowledge on (1) observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health, (2) relevant research, (3) EU, transnational, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans, and (4) adaptation case studies. It was relaunched in early 2019 with a new design and updated content. Further objectives include 'Promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors through climate-proofing EU sector policies' and 'Promoting action by Member States'.

In November 2018, the Commission published its evaluation of the 2013 EU adaptation strategy. The evaluation package includes a report from the Commission, a Commission staff working documentadaptation preparedness scoreboard country fiches and reports from the JRC Peseta III project. This evaluation includes recommendations for the further development and implementation of adaptation policies at all levels.

In November 2013, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union adopted the EU's Seventh Environment Action Programme (7th EAP) to 2020, ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. The 7th EAP is intended to help guide EU action on the environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020. It highlights that ‘Action to mitigate and adapt to climate change will increase the resilience of the Union’s economy and society, while stimulating innovation and protecting the Union’s natural resources.’ Consequently, several priority objectives of the 7th EAP refer to climate change adaptation.


No targets have been specified.

Related policy documents

  • 7th Environment Action Programme
    DECISION No 1386/2013/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7 th EU Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. This programme is intended to help guide EU action on the environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020 based on the following vision: ‘In 2050, we live well, within the planet’s ecological limits. Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society’s resilience. Our low-carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource use, setting the pace for a safe and sustainable global society.’
  • Climate-ADAPT: Adaptation in EU policy sectors
    Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
  • Climate-ADAPT: Country profiles
    Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
  • DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
    Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives in the future. This web portal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
  • EU Adaptation Strategy Package
    In April 2013, the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change, which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it enhances the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
  • Evaluation of the EU Adaptation Strategy Package
    In November 2018, the EC published an evaluation of the EU Adaptation Strategy. The evaluation package comprises a Report on the implementation of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change (COM(2018)738), the Evaluation of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change (SWD(2018)461), and the Adaptation preparedness scoreboard Country fiches (SWD(2018)460). The evaluation found that the EU Adaptation Strategy has been a reference point to prepare Europe for the climate impacts to come, at all levels. It emphasized that EU policy must seek to create synergies between climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction efforts and sustainable development to avoid future damage and provide for long-term economic and social welfare in Europe and in partner countries. The evaluation also suggests areas where more work needs to be done to prepare vulnerable regions and sectors.


Methodology for indicator calculation

To estimate the mass balance of the polar ice sheets, an ensemble of satellite altimetry, interferometry and gravimetry data sets using common geographical regions, time intervals and models of surface mass balance and glacial isostatic adjustment has been used.

Methodology for gap filling

Not applicable.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.


Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

External data references

Data sources in latest figures



Methodology uncertainty

Not applicable.

Data sets uncertainty

Data on the cryosphere vary significantly with regard to availability and quality. Snow and ice cover have been monitored globally since satellite measurements started in the 1970s. Improved technology allows for more detailed observations and observations of a higher resolution. Direct historical area-wide data on the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets cover about 20 years, but reconstructions give a 200 000-year perspective.

Continuous efforts are being made to improve knowledge of the cryosphere. Scenarios for the future development of key components of the cryosphere are available from Phase 5 of the World Climate Research Programme Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) and continue to be developed in CMIP6. Owing to their economic importance, considerable efforts have also been devoted to improving real-time monitoring of snow cover and sea ice.

Rationale uncertainty

Not applicable.

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Hans-Martin Füssel


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
CLIM 009
Version id: 5

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 4 years


DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Document Actions