In November–December 2002, a joint airborne experiment by Centro de Estudios Cientifícos and NASA flew over the Antarctic ice sheet to collect laser altimetry and radio-echo sounding data over glaciers flowing into the Amundsen Sea. A P-3 aircraft on loan from the Chilean Navy made four flights over Pine Island, Thwaites, Pope, Smith and Kohler glaciers, with each flight yielding 1.5–2 hours of data. The thickness measurements reveal that these glaciers flow into deep troughs, which extend far inland, implying a high potential for rapid retreat. Interferometric synthetic aperture radar data (InSAR) and satellite altimetry data from the European Remote-sensing Satellites (ERS-1/-2) show rapid grounding-line retreat and ice thinning of these glaciers. Using the new thickness data, we have reevaluated glacier fluxes and the present state of mass balance, which was previously estimated using ice thicknesses deduced largely from inversion of elevation data assuming hydrostatic equilibrium. The revised total ice discharge of 241 ± 5km3 a–1 exceeds snow accumulation by 81 ± 17 km3 a–1 of ice, equivalent to a sea-level rise of 0.21 ± 0.04 mma–1. This magnitude of ice loss is too large to be caused by atmospheric forcing and implies dynamic thinning of the glaciers. This is confirmed by ice-flow acceleration observed with InSAR. We attribute the flow acceleration and ice thinning to enhanced bottom melting of the ice shelves by a warmer ocean, which reduces buttressing of the glaciers, and in turn accelerates them out of balance.