As part of the Ross Ice Shelf Geophysical and Glaciological Survey (RIGGS), ice velocities were measured on the Ross Ice Shelf (RIS) during 1973–78. Comparisons of these with velocity estimates at the same locations derived from RADARSAT synthetic aperture radar (SAR) measurements in 1997 and 2009 show velocity reduction in the southeast quadrant of the ice shelf by almost 200 m a−1, with deceleration rates increasing with time. Large areas of ice shelf in this region are lightly grounded, forming an ‘ice plain’ that increases local buttressing of the ice streams. ICESat measurements show this ice plain to be thickening. The observed decrease in ice-shelf velocities implies a total reduction in the mass of ice flowing into the RIS from the West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS) by ∼23 Gt a−1, shifting the mass balance of the WAIS drainage basin from strongly negative in the 1970s to strongly positive in 2009. The resulting decrease in ice advection should lead to ice-shelf thinning further seaward of the ice plain. This thinning would reduce the lateral drag and back-stress of the shelf ice, further contributing to thinning through an increase in spreading rate. ICESat measurements show recent thinning of most of the freely floating ice shelf.