How much ice is on Antarctica?

Visualize a mountain range that is more than 800 miles (1300 km) long and 9,900 feet (3,000 meters) high. That’s twice as long as California’s Sierra Nevada and eight times higher than the Empire State Building. Now imagine it completely covered by an ice plateau—you could walk right over the top of this mountain range without even knowing it was there! You would need a lot of ice to cover a mountain range that big. This isn’t just an imaginary mountain range, however, it exists in Antarctica and is covered completely with ice. There are also several other massive mountain ranges in Antarctica with only isolated peaks and rock cliffs poking out from the ice dome that covers most of Antarctica. In some places in Antarctica the ice is more than 13,200 ft (4,000 meters) thick. That’s two and a half miles deep, or more than ten and a half times taller than the Empire State Building.

How much ice is on Antarctica? The Antarctic Ice Cap contains about 85% of the world’s ice, which is about 80% of all the fresh water on earth. That ice weights about 27 million billion tons (24,500 million billion kg). It’s difficult to conceptualize a number that large. It might help to imagine 100,000 tons, the weight that could be carried by a container ship 335 meters long and 43 meters wide, one of the largest cargo ships on the ocean. If you loaded all the ice on Antarctica onto these cargo ships and then starting counting the ships, assuming you could count one ship per second, you would still be counting more than 860 years from now. The massive weight of the ice cap pushes the underlying continent about 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) into the earth’s crust.

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