There are more than160,000 glaciers on the planet, and records indicate that most, but not all, glacier systems have been losing mass for at least the last four decades, and that the rate of loss has been accelerating since the 1990s for key regions including Patagonia, the Canadian Arctic, Alaska and, most important of all for sea-level rise, from the great ice sheets covering Antarctica and Greenland which contain 99.5% of all land ice on Earth, and store enough ice to raise global sea level by around 64 metres. The evidence that mass loss in Greenland and west Antarctica has been accelerating since the early 1990s is irrefutable. link  Of the more than 33 million cubic kilometers of glacier ice in the world most is locked up in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Researchers have found they can obtain a measure of average global temperatures by using satellites to monitor heat-sensitive objects on the ground. Of these objects, glaciers are among the most reliable indicators of climate change. Despite typical glaciers’ massive sizes, monitoring them is not always an easy task. Only specific types of small glaciers are good measures of climate change. Some glaciers are too large to measure accurately, and others are simply too unpredictable. Once scientists find a suitable glacier, they must take satellite images of the ice for a minimum of five years and compare the results.
The ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica contain about 99.5% of the Earth's glacier ice and could raise sea levels by 65 metres if they melted completely, although experts think this is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future. However, a survey of the world's top 26 glaciologists found most believe melting of the ice sheets could be more rapid and severe than previously estimated. They believe that melting of the ice sheets alone this century would be likely to raise the average global sea level by 29cm, the poll found, but there is a five per cent chance of it increasing even further by a catastrophic 84cm. link  

Chasing Ice - (Now available on Netflix and YouTube)
Environmental photographer James Blalog, once a skeptic about climate change, gathered undeniable evidence of our changing planet in his Extreme Ice Survey. His assignment for National Geographic culminates in this award-winning film on disappearing glaciers. link 
Chasing Ice has won 20 awards at film festivals around the world.


  • General information
  • The Americas
  • European Glaciers
  • Asia
See also pages on the Polar Icecaps and Greenland

General information

Like a canary in a coal mine, the dwindling of the glaciers is visible evidence that the earth really is getting hotter. Most of Earth's 160,000 glaciers have been slowly shrinking and thinning for more than a century as the climate warms up from both natural causes and human activity. The retreat is being driven largely by longer melting seasons. The other key factor in glacier health - the amount of winter snowfall to replace ice melt - shows no long-term changes. Scientists say the melt rate has accelerated dramatically since the mid-1990s, which was the hottest decade in a thousand years, according to data from ancient ice cores and tree rings. link

April 2011: Glaciers melting at fastest rate in 350 years, study finds.  link

January 2010: Glaciers across the globe are continuing to melt at historic rates. 
Many will disappear by the middle of this century according to the WGMS  (World Glacier Monitoring Service). The most vulnerable glaciers were those in lower mountain ranges like the Alps and the Pyrenees in Europe, in Africa, parts of the Andes in South and Central America, and the Rockies in North America. If you take a medium scenario about 70% of the Alps will be gone by 2050, and mountain ranges like the Pyrenees may be completely ice-free.

Types of glaciers and how they are formed - link  
National Snow and Ice Data Center - link:
Link to The World Glacier Inventory which contains information for over 100,000 glaciers through out the world.   

The Americas

June 2015: Alaska’s glaciers now losing 76 billion tons of ice every year. Scientists with the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and several other institutions report a staggering finding: Glaciers of the United States’ largest — and only Arctic — state, Alaska, have lost 75 gigatons of ice per year from 1994 through 2013. (A gigaton is a billion metric tons.)  For comparison, that’s roughly half of a recent estimate a for ice loss for all of Antarctica (159 billion metric tons). It takes 360 gigatons of ice to lead to one millimeter of sea level rise, which implies that the Alaska region alone may have contributed several millimeters in the past few decades -  link   USGS photo  

Animation showing the interpreted extent of ice sheets in North America for the past 18,000 years.  link  

USGS web site

South America  

October 2016: Ancient Andes loses 50% of ice in just 40 years. The snowcapped skyline of the Andes is beating a hasty retreat. Since the mid-1970s, the area covered by glaciers in Peru’s Cordillera de Vilcanota range has nearly halved, with most losses occurring below 5000 metres. Using Landsat images glaciologists found that 48% of ice had disappeared since 1975, with 81%  vanishing in areas below 5000 metres. As global warming continues, such tropical glaciers are likely to disappear. The Andes host more than 95% of the world’s tropical glaciers, a rich source of water for drinking, hydroelectric power and farming.  link

January 2016: Glaciers in Andes melting at record rates. Tropical glaciers in the Andes are melting at their fastest rate for 12 years, thanks to the record-breaking El Niño that is warming up the area, according to new data analysed for New Scientist.  “The lower-level glaciers in the Andes, below 5500 metres, are really endangered now and probably only have a couple of decades left. Similarly, the Conejeras glacier in Colombia has lost 43% of its volume over the last two years. link  

April 2013: In Andes, 1,600 years for ice to form: melted in just 25 years. Scientists report that glacial ice in the Peruvian Andes that took at least 1,600 years to form has melted in just 25 years, the latest indication that the recent spike in global temperatures has thrown the natural world out of balance. Throughout the Andes, glaciers are now melting so rapidly that scientists have grown deeply concerned about water supplies for the people living there. Glacial meltwater is essential for helping Andean communities get through the dry season. In the short run, the melting is producing an increase of water supplies and feeding population growth in major cities of the Andes, the experts said. But as the glaciers continue shrinking, trouble almost certainly looms. link

April 2011: Glaciers melting at fastest rate in 350 years, study finds.  link
January 2013: 
Andean glaciers melting at 'unprecedented' rates. Since the 1970s, glaciers have shrunk by an average of 30-50% according to a new study.   link

January 2011: Glaciers in the South American Andes are melting faster than many scientists predicted link

 December 2009: Glacier threat to La Paz - 25% do not have ready access to water. Fears are growing for the future of water supplies in one of Latin America's fastest-growing urban areas - Bolivia's sprawling capital of La Paz and its twin El Alto. Scientists monitoring the glaciers high in the Andes mountains - a key source of water - say the ice is showing signs of shrinking faster than previously forecast. Back in 2005, glaciologist Edson Ramirez, from the University of San Andres in La Paz, predicted that the Chacaltaya glacier would vanish by 2015. In fact it's happened several years sooner. Dr Ramirez said that the rate and scale of melting of the Andean glaciers at this altitude was an indicator of climate change. "This is really a problem. It's a problem that begins now but will become more serious as other, much larger glaciers melt as well."  link

European Glaciers

 January 2011: Glaciers in the European Alps could shrink by 75% by the end of the century, according to new research from the University of British Colombia. The study concludes that globally, mountain glaciers and ice-caps are projected to lose 15-27% of their volume. These conclusions are consistent with IPPC. link

Spain has glaciers - now under threat.
Spain has lost 90% of its glaciers because of global warming, threatening drought as rivers dry up.  While glaciers covered 3,300 hectares of land on the Pyrenees mountain range that divides Spain and France at the turn of the last century, only 390 hectares remain, according to Spain's environment ministry.  link

Switzerland glaciers in full retreat.    Recent research suggests that Switzerland's glaciers have been reduced by 13%  from 1999 to 2008. The European heat-wave of 2003 is said to have been responsible for a 3-4% loss of volume in that one year alone. Matthias Huss of Zurich university's Laboratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology, says of the Rhone Glacier, a mid-sized (for Switzerland) 10km-long glacier, that it will have almost gone in 100 years. "It first retreats not very fast, until about 2050. Then, it retreats really quite fast. It means that most glaciers, the smaller ones, will have disappeared by the end of this century." Swiss researcher Daniel Farinotti concludes: "What really matters is how much ice we have in the big glaciers, because the small ones will disappear; that seems clear. For them, it's just a matter of years. But in glaciers like Aletsch that have a lot f ice, they will be around for decades."   link

December 2011: French Alpine glaciers in retreat. Glaciers in the French Alps have lost a quarter of their area in the past 40 years, according to new researchlink 

Hydro Power industry must prepare for glacier-free future. In the same way as the Himalayas are "Asia's water-tower," Switzerland is the source of Europe's biggest rivers, supporting agriculture and waterways, and cooling nuclear power stations. Hydro meets around 60% of Switzerland's energy needs. As summers dry and glaciers that help drive turbines with meltwater recede, that share may eventually decline to 46% by 2035. More than a billion people worldwide live in river basins fed by glacier or snowmelt.  link


The Tibetan Plateau - The Third Pole. Because the Tibetan Plateau and its environs shelter the largest perennial ice mass on the planet after the Arctic and Antarctica, it has come to be known as “the Third Pole.” Due to climate change, the roughly 1.7-mile-long Baishui Glacier No. 1 could well be one of the first major glacial systems on the Tibetan Plateau to disappear after thousands of years. The glacier, situated above the honky-tonk town of Lijiang in southwest China, has receded 830 feet over the last two decades and appears to be wasting away at an ever more rapid rate each year. It is the southernmost glacier on the plateau, so its decline is an early warning of what may ultimately befall the approximately 18,000 higher-altitude glaciers in the Greater Himalayas as the planet continues to warm. Temperatures on the Tibetan plateau are rising much faster than the global average. Respected Chinese glaciologist Yao Tandong recently warned that, given present trends, almost two-thirds of the plateau’s glaciers could well disappear within the next 40 years. link  Some scientists have observed mountain ranges where glaciers there were advancing. Under debate is whether this is a phenomenon called glacial "surge" caused by melt water underneath the glacier lubricating its ground contact and causing it to move forward. This is different from a real advance of a glacier, which is caused by an increase in the volume of ice. link

December 2011: Himalayas glaciers have shrunk by as much as a fifth in just 30 years, scientists have claimed in the first authoritative confirmation of the effects of climate change on the region. The findings, published in three reports by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), show Nepal's glaciers have shrunk by 21% and Bhutan’s by 22% over 30 years. link

Copyright © 2008 thinkglobalgreen.org   All Rights Reserved
website hosting powered by Charlotte Internet