Antarctica has seen a "significant" change in ice mass following increased snowfall during the 20th century which has mitigated rising sea levels, researchers say.

NASA and British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists said analysis of 53 ice cores from across the continent showed that the snowfall had stopped seas rising by 10mm.

However, they said the additional ice mass gained from the snowfall only makes up for about a third of Antarctica's overall ice loss.

BAS ice core scientist Dr Liz Thomas: "Sea-level rise is an urgent issue affecting society and there is still uncertainty about what contribution comes from Antarctica.

"Our new results show a significant change in the surface mass balance [from snowfall] during the 20th century.

"The largest contribution is from the Antarctic Peninsula, where the annual average snowfall during the first decade of the 21st century is 10% higher than at the same period in the 19th century.

"From the ice cores we know that the current rate of change in snowfall is unusual in the context of the past 200 years."

However, researchers said the increases in snowfall did not contradict observations of mass ice loss in western Antarctica, where they contribute to about 14% of sea-level rise around the world.

Lead author Dr Brooke Medley, from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said: "Our findings don't mean that Antarctica is growing: it's still losing mass, even with the extra snowfall.

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"What it means, however, is that without these gains, we would have experienced even more sea-level rise in the 20th century."

The team behind the findings published in the Nature Climate Change journal found the increased snowfall and its distribution pattern was consistent with a warming atmosphere, which can hold more moisture.

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