Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder said the measurements are important because the melting of the world's glaciers and ice caps due to global warming pose the greatest threat to sea level increases in the future.
CU-Boulder physics Professor John Wahr, who helped lead the study, said the findings indicate the globe's melting glaciers are adding about 0.4 millimeters to sea levels annually.
The researchers used satellite measurements taken with the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE, a joint effort of NASA and Germany, and estimated the world's glaciers and ice caps had lost about 39 cubic miles of ice annually from 2003 to 2010.
"This is the first time anyone has looked at all of the mass loss from all of Earth's glaciers and ice caps with GRACE," Wahr said in a CU-Boulder release Wednesday. "The Earth is losing an incredible amount of ice to the oceans annually, and these new results will help us answer important questions in terms of both sea rise and how the planet's cold regions are responding to global change."
"The total amount of ice lost to Earth's oceans from 2003 to 2010 would cover the entire United States in about 1 and 1/2 feet of water," Wahr said.