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Observations show that glaciers around the world are in retreat and losing mass. Internationally coordinated for over a century, glacier monitoring activities provide an unprecedented dataset of glacier observations from ground, air and space. Glacier studies generally select specific parts of these datasets to obtain optimal assessments of the mass-balance data relating to the impact that glaciers exercise on global sea-level fluctuations or on regional runoff. In this study we provide an overview and analysis of the main observational datasets compiled by the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS). The dataset on glacier front variations (∼42 000 since 1600) delivers clear evidence that centennial glacier retreat is a global phenomenon. Intermittent readvance periods at regional and decadal scale are normally restricted to a subsample of glaciers and have not come close to achieving the maximum positions of the Little Ice Age (or Holocene). Glaciological and geodetic observations (∼5200 since 1850) show that the rates of early 21st-century mass loss are without precedent on a global scale, at least for the time period observed and probably also for recorded history, as indicated also in reconstructions from written and illustrated documents. This strong imbalance implies that glaciers in many regions will very likely suffer further ice loss, even if climate remains stable.
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Historically unprecedented global glacier decline in the
early 21st century
Michael ZEMP,
Holger FREY,
Frank PAUL,
Wilfried HAEBERLI,
Andreas P. AHLSTRØM,
Ludwig N. BRAUN,
Bolívar E. CÁCERES,
Guillermo COBOS,
Luzmila R. DÁVILA,
Michael N. DEMUTH,
Bogdan GADEK,
Jon Ove HAGEN,
Neamat KARIMI,
Zhongqin LI,
Mauri PELTO,
Pierre PITTE,
Rainer PRINZ,
Chandrashekhar V. SANGEWAR,
Alvaro SORUCO,
Christian VINCENT
World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), Department of Geography, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland
National Correspondents* for
ABSTRACT. Observations show that glaciers around the world are in retreat and losing mass.
Internationally coordinated for over a century, glacier monitoring activities provide an unprecedented
dataset of glacier observations from ground, air and space. Glacier studies generally select specific parts
of these datasets to obtain optimal assessments of the mass-balance data relating to the impact that
glaciers exercise on global sea-level fluctuations or on regional runoff. In this study we provide an
overview and analysis of the main observational datasets compiled by the World Glacier Monitoring
Service (WGMS). The dataset on glacier front variations (42 000 since 1600) delivers clear evidence
that centennial glacier retreat is a global phenomenon. Intermittent readvance periods at regional and
decadal scale are normally restricted to a subsample of glaciers and have not come close to achieving
the maximum positions of the Little Ice Age (or Holocene). Glaciological and geodetic observations
(5200 since 1850) show that the rates of early 21st-century mass loss are without precedent on a
global scale, at least for the time period observed and probably also for recorded history, as indicated
also in reconstructions from written and illustrated documents. This strong imbalance implies that
glaciers in many regions will very likely suffer further ice loss, even if climate remains stable.
KEYWORDS: glacier fluctuations, glacier mass balance, mountain glaciers
Glacier fluctuations, i.e. changes in length, area, volume and
mass, represent an integration of changes in the energy
balance and, as such, are well recognized as high-
confidence indicators of climate change (Bojinski and others,
2014). Past, current and future glacier changes impact global
sea level (e.g. Raper and Braithwaite, 2006; Meier and
others, 2007; Gardner and others, 2013; Radić and others,
2014; Marzeion and others, 2014), the regional water cycle
(e.g. Fountain, 1996; Kaser and others, 2010; Weber and
others, 2010; Huss, 2011; Bliss and others, 2014) and local
hazard situations (e.g. Kääb and others, 2003; Bajracharya
and Mool, 2009; Haeberli and others, 2015). In the Fifth
Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (Vaughan and others, 2013) glacier mass
budgets for 2003–09 were reconciled in order to obtain an
estimate of the glacier contribution to sea level. This was
achieved by combining traditional observations with satellite
altimetry and gravimetry as a way of filling regional gaps and
obtaining global coverage (Gardner and others, 2013).
However, the analysis was possible only during a short time
period; additional datasets are needed to detect climatic
trends and to compare current change rates with earlier ones.
In this study we present a joint analysis of data compiled by
the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS, 2008a, and
references therein) and its National Correspondents in order
to provide the scientific community with an in-depth
summary of changes in glacier length, volume and mass.
For this purpose we apply the observational dataset in its full
richness for a comprehensive assessment of decadal glacier
changes at global and regional levels. Results from different
methods are not merged (as in Gardner and others, 2013),
rather they are treated separately in order to demonstrate and
discuss both the strengths and limitations of the respective
Journal of Glaciology, Vol. 61, No. 228, 2015 doi: 10.3189/2015JoG15J017
*Complete affiliations of the WGMS National Correspondents are given in
the Appendix.
datasets. We conclude with a brief outlook on future tasks for
the internationally coordinated glacier monitoring network
aimed at best serving the scientific community.
2.1. Background, data compilation and dissemination
Internationally coordinated glacier monitoring began in
1894 and the periodic publication of compiled information
on glacier fluctuations started 1 year later (Forel, 1895). In
the beginning, glacier monitoring focused mainly on glacier
fluctuations, particularly on the collection and publication
of front variation data (commonly referred to as length
changes), and after the late 1940s the focus was on glacier-
wide mass-balance measurements (Haeberli, 1998). Begin-
ning with the introduction of the ‘Fluctuations of Glaciers’
series in the late 1960s (PSFG, 1967; WGMS, 2012, and
volumes in between), standardized data on changes in
glacier length, area, volume and mass have been published
at pentadal intervals. Since the late 1980s, glacier fluctu-
ation data have been organized in a relational database and
made available in electronic form (Hoelzle and Trindler,
1998). In the 1990s, an international glacier monitoring
strategy was conceived to provide quantitative, comprehen-
sive and easily understandable information relating to
questions about process understanding, change detection,
model validation and environmental impacts with an
interdisciplinary knowledge transfer to the scientific com-
munity as well as to policymakers, the media and the public
(Haeberli, 1998; Haeberli and others, 2000). Based on this
strategy, the monitoring of glaciers has been internationally
coordinated within the framework of the Global Terrestrial
Network for Glaciers ( under the
Global Climate Observing System in support of the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Bo-
jinski and others, 2014).
For data compilation, the WGMS and its predecessor
organizations have been organizing periodical calls-for-data
through an international scientific collaboration network
with National Correspondents for, currently, 36 countries
and thousands of contributing observers around the world.
With the most recent data report (WGMS, 2012), the global
dataset was extended substantially by adding the latest
observations from the measurement period 2005–10 and by
supplementing earlier periods (WGMS 2008b, and earlier
issues) with additional records from the literature (Fig. 1).
The corresponding increase in mass-balance data from
glaciological and geodetic methods is shown in Figure 1a,
while the gain in front variation from observation and
reconstruction records is seen in Figure 1b. The full dataset
is available from the WGMS website and can be explored
using a map-based browser (
A look at the entire data samples in Figure 1 (joint area in
dark and pale blue) reveals that the glaciological sample has
been increasing whereas the geodetic and the two front
variation samples have been decreasing over the past 25
years. The increase found in the glaciological sample
reflects the successful efforts of the observers to continue
and extend their monitoring programmes as well as of the
WGMS to compile these results through its collaboration
network. The decline in the geodetic sample has to do with
the normal post-processing character of geodetic surveys.
Another reason is the stronger reluctance with regard to data
sharing; it appears that the cost to the relevant research
community in terms of the extra effort required to submit
Fig. 1. Number of glacier fluctuation records over time. (a) Temporal coverage of available mass-balance records is shown for the geodetic
method above, and for the glaciological method below, the time axis. The latest increase in data availability is indicated in pale blue and
corresponds to the additional data coverage at the time of publication of WGMS (2012) compared to WGMS (2008a,b, and earlier issues) in
dark blue. (b) The temporal coverage of available front variation records from observations (above) and reconstructions (below). Again, the
latest increase in compiled data is indicated in pale blue. In both plots, multi-annual observations are accounted for in each year of the
survey period. Source: glacier fluctuation data from WGMS (2012, and earlier issues).
Zemp and others: Global glacier decline in the early 21st century746
data (beyond a journal publication of the main results) is
considerable compared with the benefit gained from
increased visibility through data sharing. As a consequence,
the recent increase in the dataset (pale blue) mainly
derives from an extensive literature research. In the case of
the observational front variation sample, the decrease is
reported to be caused mainly by the abandonment of in situ
programmes without remote-sensing compensation.
2.2. Glaciological mass-balance data
The glaciological method (cf. Cogley and others, 2011),
based primarily on stake and pit measurements, provides
mass-budget estimates with pioneer point observation
extending back to the late 19th century (Mercanton, 1916;
Chen and Funk, 1990; Müller and Kappenberger, 1991;
Vincent and others, 2004; Huss and Bauder, 2009). Since
the 1940s, accumulation and ablation of snow, firn and ice
have been measured in situ and integrated within glacier-
wide averages of mass changes in metres of water equiva-
lent (m w.e.). The method requires intensive fieldwork but
provides reference information on seasonal and annual
components of the surface balance, long-term interannual
variability, the equilibrium-line altitude (ELA) and accumu-
lation–area ratios (AAR) from a few hundred glaciers.
Furthermore, mass balance and AAR can be used to
calculate the committed loss in glacier area as (1 – AAR)/
, where AAR
is the balanced-budget value of AAR
calculated from the linear regression against mass balance
(cf. Mernild and others, 2013). Mass-balance results are
reported, citing the dates when the survey period began and
when the winter season and the survey period ended.
Winter, summer and annual balances typically refer to the
sum of accumulation and ablation over the winter season,
the summer season and the hydrological year, respectively
(cf. Cogley and others, 2011).
The glaciological method provides quantitative results at
high temporal resolution, which are essential for under-
standing climate–glacier processes and for allowing the
spatial and temporal variability of the glacier mass balance
to be captured, even with only a small sample of obser-
vation points. It is recommended to periodically validate
and calibrate annual glaciological mass-balance series with
decadal geodetic balances in order to detect and remove
systematic biases.
For climate change assessments, ongoing mass-balance
series with >30 observation years are of special value and,
hence, labelled as ‘reference’ glaciers (Zemp and others,
2009). The glaciological dataset currently contains 37
glaciers that fulfil these criteria. A list of these ‘reference’
glaciers as well as related principal investigators and
sponsoring agencies is given in WGMS (2013).
2.3. Geodetic mass-balance data
The geodetic method (cf. Cogley and others, 2011) provides
overall glacier volume changes over a longer time period by
repeat mapping from ground, air- or spaceborne surveys and
subsequent differencing of glacier surface elevations. Geo-
detic surveys are currently available for 450 glaciers. The
geodetic method includes all components of the surface,
internal and basal balances and can be used for a
comparison with the glaciological (surface-only) mass
budgets of the same glacier (Zemp and others, 2013) and
for extending the glaciological sample in space and time
(Cogley, 2009). For the conversion of geodetic results to
glaciological mass-balance units (m w.e.), a glacier-wide
average density of 850 60 kg m
is commonly applied
(cf. Huss, 2013). The results of the glaciological and the
geodetic methods provide conventional balances which
incorporate climatic forcing and changes in glacier hyp-
sometry and represent the glacier contribution to runoff
(cf. Cogley and others, 2011).
Within the international glacier monitoring strategy, the
strength of the geodetic method is that it provides decadal
values that take the entire glacier into account, i.e. including
inaccessible regions. In combination with sound uncertainty
estimates, its results are, hence, essential for validating and
calibrating glaciological data series. Reanalysis of glacier
mass-balance series needs to be carried out over common
survey periods and after careful homogenization and
uncertainty assessment of both the glaciological and the
geodetic observations (cf. Zemp and others, 2013). Such
reanalysis exercises have been applied successfully at
several glaciers (e.g. Thibert and others 2008; Huss and
others, 2009; Zemp and others 2010; Fischer 2011; Prinz
and others 2011; Andreassen and others 2012), and need to
become a standard procedure for every monitoring pro-
gramme (Zemp and others, 2013). In addition, the geodetic
method can provide thickness and volume change informa-
tion for large glacier samples covering entire mountain
ranges (e.g. Paul and Haeberli, 2008).
2.4. Front variation data (length changes)
Direct observations of glacier front positions extend back
into the 19th century (WGMS, 2008a). This data sample has
been extended in space based on remotely sensed length
change observations (e.g. Cook and others, 2005; Gordon
and others, 2008; Citterio and others, 2009) and continued
back in time by front variations reconstructed from clearly
dated historical documents (Zemp and others, 2011, and
references therein). Overall, the database contains 42 000
observations which allow the front variations of 2000
glaciers to be illustrated and quantified back into the 19th
century. Additional reconstruction series from 30 glaciers
in the European Alps, Scandinavia and the southern Andes
extend as far back as the Little Ice Age (LIA) period, i.e. to
the 16th century (Zemp and others, 2011).
Within the international monitoring strategy, glacier front
variation series are a key element for assessing the regional
representativeness of the few glaciological measurement
programmes both in space and in time. In addition, glacier
front variation observations in combination with numerical
modelling provide insight into climate–glacier processes and
glacier dynamics (e.g. Hoelzle and others, 2003; Oerlemans,
2005; Lüthi and others, 2010; Leclercq and others, 2011).
2.5. Spatial and temporal regionalization
For regional analysis and comparison of the above data it is
convenient to group glaciers by proximity. We refer to the
19 glacier regions as defined by Radić and Hock (2010) and
used in some other recent studies (e.g. Pfeffer and others,
2014). For global studies of mass balance, these glacier
regions seem to be appropriate because of their manageable
number and their geographical extent, which is close to the
spatial correlation distance of glacier mass-balance vari-
ability in most regions (several hundred kilometres; cf.
Letréguilly and Reynaud, 1990; Cogley and Adams, 1998).
Where necessary, these regions are divided into further sub-
regions. Per region, all data records are aggregated at the
Zemp and others: Global glacier decline in the early 21st century 747
annual time resolution in order to give consideration to the
corresponding observational peculiarities, i.e. for multi-
annual survey periods, the annual change rate is calculated
and assigned to each year of the survey period. For
quantitative comparisons over time and between regions,
decadal arithmetic mean mass balances are calculated in
order to reduce the influence of meteorological extremes
and of density conversion issues (cf. Huss, 2013; Zemp and
others, 2013). Global values are calculated as arithmetic
means of the regional averages to avoid a bias in favour of
regions with large observation densities (e.g. in regions CEU,
SCA, SJM; cf. Table 2 and Fig. 2 for abbreviations). This
approach is suitable for assessing the temporal variability of
glacier mass balance. For calculations of glacier sea-level
contributions (cf. Section 4.4), regional averages of glacier
mass balance are weighted with the corresponding regional
glacier areas.
The full set of observational and reconstructed series was
used for the qualitative analysis of advancing and retreating
glacier fronts. For multi-annual records, annual change rates
are accounted for in every year of the observation period.
For the regional averaging, glaciers with extreme annual
advance and retreat values (i.e. values > three standard
deviations of the full sample) were omitted to reduce the
influence of calving and surging glaciers. This reduced the
full front variation sample from 2000 to 1900 glaciers (i.e.
–5%) and from 42 000 to 38 800 observations (i.e. –8%).
When conducting quantitative analysis of glacier front
variations, additional consideration must be given to
climate sensitivity and topographic effects on glacier
reaction and response times (Jóhannesson and others,
1989; Oerlemans, 2001).
3.1. Global distribution of glacier fluctuation records
Approximately 47 000 observations from 2300 glaciers are
available worldwide, some of them going back as far as the
16th century (Table 1). Glacier front variation data make up
the largest proportion with respect to the number of glaciers
and observations, with 78% and 89%, respectively. This
dataset consists mainly of annual observations of frontal
position changes supplemented by some thousands of multi-
annual and decadal length change observations. These
direct observations go back as far as the 19th century.
Reconstructions based on historical documents, geo-
morphological evidence and archaeological findings allow
the temporal coverage of glaciers in the European Alps,
Scandinavia and the Southern Andes to be extended into the
LIA (e.g. Zumbühl, 1980; Masiokas and others, 2009;
Nussbaumer and others, 2011; Purdie and others, 2014).
Glacier mass-balance time series are derived from both
glaciological and geodetic surveys. The glaciological dataset
provides glacier-wide results of 260 glaciers with >4150
annual observations over the past seven decades, often
Fig. 2. Distribution of glacier area and fluctuation records in 19 regions. The pie charts show the regional glacier area (excluding the ice
sheets in Greenland and Antarctica) and the fraction covered by available observations. The dots show the location of continued (red) and
interrupted (black cross) series with respect to the latest data report covering the observation period 2005/06–2009/10. The 19 regions
moving from northwest to southeast are: 1. Alaska (ALA); 2. Western North America (WNA); 3. Arctic Canada North (ACN); 4. Arctic
Canada South (ACS); 5. Greenland (GRL); 6. Iceland (ISL); 7. Svalbard and Jan Mayen (SJM); 8. Scandinavia (SCA); 9. Russian Arctic (RUA);
10. Asia North (ASN); 11. Central Europe (CEU); 12. Caucasus and Middle East (CAU); 13. Asia Central (ASC); 14. Asia South East (ASE); 15.
Asia South West (ASW); 16. Low Latitudes (TRP); 17. Southern Andes (SAN); 18. New Zealand (NZL); 19. Antarctica and Sub Antarctic
Islands (ANT). Sources: regional glacier area totals from Arendt and others (2012), glacier fluctuation data from WGMS (2012, and earlier
issues), and country boundaries from Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI)’s Digital Chart of the World.
Zemp and others: Global glacier decline in the early 21st century748
including seasonal balances, mass-balance distribution with
elevation, ELA, AAR and the corresponding point measure-
ments. Thickness and volume change data are available for
444 glaciers with 1100 observations. These geodetic data
come with decadal resolution and extend back into the mid-
19th century.
Quantitative information on glacier fluctuations is avail-
able from glaciers covering about one-quarter of the current
total glacier area (cf. Table 1 and Arendt and others, 2012).
Good regional coverage is found in Central Europe,
Scandinavia, Iceland, Western North America, New Zeal-
and and the Southern Andes where fluctuation observations
have been reported for glaciers covering about half or more
of the respective area. Comparatively limited information is
available from glaciers around the Greenland and Antarctic
ice sheets, Arctic Canada (apart from the large ice caps),
Asia and the Low Latitudes (Fig. 2). The amount of
information available is much smaller when analysing the
coverage from observations carried out in the 21st century
(cf. WGMS, 2008a, table 4.1 and figs 4.6 and 4.7; Zemp and
others, 2009). A large number of observation series have
been discontinued, especially in North America and Asia.
The loss of in situ front variation programmes could be
compensated for to some extent by the use of remote-
sensing data (Hall and others, 2003; Machguth and Huss,
2014). However, corresponding studies over larger areas
have not yet been carried out or reported in a systematic
way. In Europe (i.e. CEU, ISL, SCA), glacier monitoring is
well established with long-term and ongoing observation
series well distributed over the glacier coverage. In spite of
the somewhat reduced coverage in the 21st century, the
situation in South America is also encouraging, where most
countries have set up glacier monitoring programmes that,
though relatively few in number, are ongoing in nature (cf.
Masiokas and others, 2009; Rabatel and others, 2013).
3.2. Changes in glacier mass and volume
The development in global glacier mass balance since the
mid-19th century is depicted in Figure 3 which shows the
annual average balances for the glaciological and the
geodetic datasets together with the corresponding sample
sizes. The difference in survey periods between the glacio-
logical and the geodetic data becomes manifest in the
variability of the two graphs: a smooth line with step
changes towards more negative balances for the geodetic
sample and a strong variability with a negative trend for the
glaciological observations. For the glaciological balance,
the global mean annual value of the early 21st-century
observations (2001–10) is the most negative of all decades,
with –0.54 m w.e. a
. The series shows strong annual
variability (standard deviation 1951–2010: 0.25 m w.e. a
with negative averages around –0.40 m w.e. a
in the
1940s–60s, somewhat reduced mass losses in the 1970s
Table 1. Information on glacier fluctuation datasets. The total number of observations is given together with the spatial and temporal
coverage of the four analysed datasets: front variations (FV) from direct observations (obs) and reconstructions (rec); mass balance (MB) from
glaciological (glac) and geodetic (geod) methods. For 590 glaciers with no area information available, the average glacier area of the
corresponding observation sample was used for estimating the total area covered
Dataset Number of glaciers Number of
Total area covered Avg. glacier area Temporal coverage Avg. period
of record
years AD years
FV.rec 36 1118 500 14 1535–2009 6
FV.obs 1960 40 840 73 800 38 1600–2010 3
MB.geod 444 1103 173 000 390 1850–2010 22
MB.glac 260 4154 14 900 57 1885–2010 1
Overall 2283 47 215 189 000 83 1535–2010 3
Source: WGMS (2012, and earlier issues).
Fig. 3. Global average of observed mass balances from 1910 to 2010.
(a) Annual averages of geodetic (grey) and glaciological (black)
balances (dense lines; left y-axis) are shown together with the
corresponding number of observed glaciers (dotted and dashed lines
for geodetic and glaciological samples, respectively; right y-axis). (b)
Cumulative annual averages relative to 1960. In both plots,
glaciological balances are given for the full sample (thick black
lines) and for the 37 ‘reference’ glaciers (with >30 ongoing
observations; thin black lines). The thickness of the (grey) line for
the geodetic balances corresponds to the uncertainty of the density
conversion (60 kg m
). Source: WGMS (2012, and earlier issues).
Zemp and others: Global glacier decline in the early 21st century 749
and 1980s of about –0.20 m w.e. a
, followed by the recent
increase in mass loss with –0.47 m w.e. a
in the 1990s.
Note that the large annual variability around 1950 is due to
the very small sample size (i.e. n< 5 and n< 10 before 1955
and 1960, respectively). Due to the smaller sample size, the
‘reference’ glacier curve shows a slightly larger variability
but basically follows the development of the full glacio-
logical sample. The global decadal means from the geodetic
method show a steady increase in mass loss from the mid-
19th to the early 21st century, with only minor mass
changes during the 1960s and 1970s. The last decade
(2001–10) is clearly the most negative, with a mean annual
mass loss of –0.81 m w.e. a
. Overall, the geodetic results
are more negative than the glaciological ones (cf. discussion
in Section 4.2). The annual variability (standard deviation
1951–2010: 0.12 m w.e. a
) is much smaller than the
glaciological one, and the increase in the last two decades
comes with a stepwise drop in sample size.
Regional glacier mass balances derived from both the
glaciological and the geodetic methods, including corres-
ponding sample sizes, are shown in Figure 4, and decadal
results are summarized in Table 2. Analysing the available
observations in the 19 regions, the first decade of the 21st
century exhibits the most negative mass balances in the
majority of regions with available data, followed by the final
decade of the 20th century. For the glaciological sample, the
observation period 2001–10 is the most negative decade in
nine regions (ASC, ASN, CEU, GRL, ISL, SCA, WNA; in ACN
and SJM when ignoring the first decade with limited data
coverage), the second most negative after the 1990s in four
regions (ALA, ASW, CAU, SAN), and equally negative as the
two preceding periods in the Low Latitudes (TRP). Five
regions have no (ACS, ANT, ASE, RUA) or too-limited (NZL)
observations for such a comparison. A tendency towards
increasing mass loss over the past few decades is apparent in
most regions (CAN, ALA, ASN, CAU, CEU, GRL, ISL, WNA),
while in some there are negative mass loss rates but no clear
trend (ASC, SAN, SJM, TRP). A common feature of most
regions with long-term data coverage is the reduced mass
loss between the 1960s and the 1980s. This feature is even
more pronounced in Scandinavia where coastal glaciers
were able to gain mass from the 1970s to the 1990s while
the glaciers further inland continued to lose mass. In the
geodetic sample, the early 21st century is the most negative
decade in eight regions (ALA, ANT, ASE, ASW, CAU, CEU,
SAN, TRP) and second most negative in one region (WNA).
In Scandinavia and Svalbard as well as in Asia North, the
geodetic results show few variations but slightly higher mass
losses in the early to mid-20th century. The remaining
regions have only one dataset (GRL) or no data (ACN, ACS,
ASC, ISL, NZL, RUA) reported for the last decade.
In Figure 5, anomalies of glaciological annual and
seasonal balances are plotted to provide insight into the
components of the annual mass changes. In the majority of
regions, the annual balances are highly correlated with
summer balances (ALA, CAN, WNA, SJM, ISL, CEU, ASC,
CAU). In two regions (SAN, SCA), the correlation with
winter balances is even higher. An exception is Asia North,
where the correlations between annual and both seasonal
balances are low (maybe because the seasonal balances in
fact are net ablation and net accumulation; cf. Cogley and
others, 2011). Generally, glaciers with high mass turnover
(e.g. seen in ALA, WNA, SCA) also have a high sensitivity of
mass balance to temperature and precipitation changes
compared to those with low mass turnover (e.g. seen in
ACN, ASC; Oerlemans and Fortuin, 1992). The trend
towards increased mass loss over the past few decades is
clearly driven by enhanced summer melt in Alaska, Arctic
Canada North, Central Europe, Iceland and Western North
America. Winter balances seem to be of secondary import-
ance and show no common trend; there are regions with no
trend (e.g. CEU, ACN) and regions with a tendency towards
increasing (e.g. ALA, WNA) or decreasing (e.g. ASC, CAU)
winter balances over the past few decades.
An especially interesting case is Scandinavia, where there
is a clear trend toward increased summer balance partly
compensated for by increased winter balance. This com-
pensation effect, however, only becomes visible at a sub-
regional scale: in southern Norway, the coastal glaciers
were able to gain mass and readvance, culminating during
the 1990s, whereas the more continental glaciers further
inland showed only minor mass gains and continued their
retreat (Andreassen and others, 2005). Similarly, a look at
sub-regional scales is required to explain the mass-balance
results in North America (ALA, WNA). First, the strong
continental influences across the Cordillera are obliterated
by a bias in the observational sample towards maritime
glaciers in the west of the Cordillera where mass turnover
can be very high. Secondly, there is a strong north–south
bifurcation of winter mass balances in relation to Pacific
Decadal Oscillations (cf. Demuth and others, 2008, and
references therein). Such a regime shift in 1976 has biased
the storm tracks northward, thereby increasing winter
balances in Alaska while starving the glaciers in the
Southern Cordillera (WNA). In Central Asia, the few
available seasonal balance series indicate a decrease in
both summer balance and winter balance which would
correspond to a reduced mass turnover. A more detailed
analysis, however, shows that this effect stems mainly from
the discontinuation of the former Soviet series in the 1990s
and the ensuing sample bias in favour of the continued
series of the Tien Shan (i.e. Ürümqi Glacier No. 1 in China
and Ts. Tuyuksuyskiy in Kazakhstan).
3.3. Changes in glacier length (front variation)
The global compilation of front variation data, as qualita-
tively summarized in Figure 6, shows that glacier retreat has
been dominant for the past two centuries, with LIA
maximum extents reached (in some regions several times)
between the mid-16th and the late 19th centuries. The
qualitative summary of cumulative mean annual front
variations (Fig. 6a) reveals a distinct trend toward global
centennial glacier retreat, with the early 21st century
marking the historical minimum extent in all regions (except
NZL and ANT, where few observations are available) at least
for the time period of documented front variations. For New
Zealand and the Antarctic, a larger variability stands out but
can be explained by the small quantitative front variation
sample which is limited to a few records. Intermittent
periods of glacier readvance, such as those in the Alps
around the 1920s and 1970s or in Scandinavia in the 1990s,
are hardly visible in Figure 6a because they do not even
come close to achieving LIA maximum extents. Figure 6b
provides a better overview of these readvance periods by
highlighting the years with a larger ratio of advancing
glaciers. In this figure, the ratio of advancing glaciers in the
sample is indicated qualitatively by colours ranging from
white for years with no reported advances to dark blue for
Zemp and others: Global glacier decline in the early 21st century750
years with a large ratio of advancing glaciers. It becomes
evident that glacier readvance periods are found at the
regional and decadal scale but are restricted to a fraction of
the observed samples (90% of the years have values <36%).
In the European Alps, the annual ratio of advancing glaciers
ranged in the observed sample between 32% and 70% in
the 1965–85 period. In Scandinavia it ranged between 42%
and 66% in the 1990s. Due to different reaction and
response times, individual glaciers did not show the
readvance in the same years and some glaciers did not
readvance at all. Globally synchronous periods with a large
ratio of advancing glaciers are found before 1850 (30% in
the 1830s and 1840s) and around 1975 (37% in the
1970s). By contrast, the 1930s, 1940s and the beginning of
the 21st century stand out as the period with very low ratios
in all regions (with decadal averages of 10% or lower). The
observations from the Low Latitudes (TRP) show a con-
tinuous retreat since the late 17th century with no readvance
period in the (limited) sample until the early 20th century.
Periods with very small data samples tend to show extreme
ratios which are not plausible. As a consequence, years with
a small sample size (n< 6) are masked in dark grey.
Fig. 4. Mass-balance details for selected regions from 1930 to 2010. Annual averages of geodetic balances (grey) and of glaciological annual
(black) balances. The thickness of the (grey) line for the geodetic balances corresponds to the uncertainty of the density conversion (60 kg m
In addition, the number of observation series are given for geodetic (grey dotted) and glaciological annual (black dashed) balances (right
y-axis). The regions ACS, ANT, NZL and RUA are not shown because of limited data coverage. Data source: WGMS (2012, and earlier issues).
Zemp and others: Global glacier decline in the early 21st century 751
Table 2. Regional mass-balance results 1851–2010. The decadal averages (mm w.e.) of both geodetic and glaciological balances are given for all 19 regions, for the global average (of all regions) and for
the 37 ‘reference’ glaciers (with >30 continued observations). Negative values smaller than –250 and –500 mm w.e. are highlighted in orange and red, respectively. Positive values greater than 250 and
500 mmw.e. are highlighted in pale and dark blue, respectively. Decadal values based on >100 annual observations are marked in bold
GeoRegion.method 1851–60 1861–70 1871–80 1881–90 1891–1900 1901–10 1911–20 1921–30 1931–40 1941–50 1951–60 1961–70 1971–80 1981–90 1991–2000 2001–10
Arctic Canada North (ACN).geod –93
Arctic Canada North (ACN).glac –641 –74 –59 –83 –219 –289
Arctic Canada South (ACS).geod –1496 –1496 –1496 –1496 –1496 –1105
Arctic Canada South (ACS).glac 223 –378
Alaska (ALA).geod –415 –451 –475 –510 –540 –754 –904
Alaska (ALA).glac 316 –81 205 –114 –115 –555 –468
Sub- and Antarctic (ANT).geod –107 –107 –107 –107 –107 –2088
Sub- and Antarctic (ANT).glac –560 –137
Asia Central (ASC).geod –382 –361 –276 –275 –276 –389
Asia Central (ASC).glac –78 –106 –535 –426 –425 –622
Asia South East (ASE).geod –271 –244 –233 –273 –451
Asia South East (ASE).glac –404 –372
Asia North (ASN).geod –635 –220 –233 –209 –205 –205
Asia North (ASN).glac –168 –42 –2 –144 –205
Asia South West (ASW).geod –355 –355 –425 –342 –241 –129 –513
Asia South West (ASW).glac –372 –1084 –823
Caucasus and Middle East (CAU).geod –556 –527 –355 –309 –1258 –2533
Caucasus and Middle East (CAU).glac –258 –240 –38 –299 –271
Central Europe (CEU).geod –307 –286 –310 –325 –326 –327 –366 –378 –383 –311 –162 –135 –428 –496 –704
Central Europe (CEU).glac 70 15 –185 –1010 –236 –34 4 –556 –719 –1030
Greenland (GRL).geod 58
Greenland (GRL).glac –115 –3 –632 –890
Iceland (ISL).geod –673 –673
Iceland (ISL).glac –113 –495 –1056
New Zealand (NZL).geod
New Zealand (NZL).glac –770 –2110 –2438 333
Russian Arctic (RUA).geod
Russian Arctic (RUA).glac 57 143
Southern Andes (SAN).geod –105 –517 –729 –983 –1476
Southern Andes (SAN).glac –144 –133 –684 –228
Scandinavia (SCA).geod –283 –283 –283 –306 21 –190 –206 –110 –111 –207
Scandinavia (SCA).glac –686 –591 –257 45 159 131 –786
Svalbard and Jan Mayen (SJM).geod –213 –274 –274 –294 –318 –317 –253 –269
Svalbard and Jan Mayen (SJM).glac –534 –421 –317 –243 –486
Low Latitudes (TRP).geod 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 –104 –306 –264 –230 –206 –397 –354 –661
Low Latitudes (TRP).glac 704 –787 –840 –759
Western North America (WNA).geod –333 –333 –325 –432 –316 –453 –571 –560
Western North America (WNA).glac –328 –246 –128 –408 –433 –987
Global avg. of all regions.geod 0 –154 –143 –155 –163 –163 –203 –216 –278 –472 –432 –366 –369 –427 –508 –809
Global avg. of all regions.glac 70 15 –185 –460 –389 –358 –214 –225 –473 –544
Global avg. of ‘reference’ glaciers.glac –977 –377 –146 –121 –238 –407 –743
Source: WGMS (2012, and earlier issues).
Zemp and others: Global glacier decline in the early 21st century752
4.1. Global centennial glacier retreat and mass loss
The retreat of glaciers from their LIA (and Holocene)
moraines and trimlines can be observed in the field as well
as on aerial and satellite images for tens of thousands of
glaciers around the world (e.g. Grove, 2004; Svoboda and
Paul, 2009; Davies and Glasser, 2012; Kargel and others,
2014). Large collections of historical and modern photo-
graphs (NSIDC, 2009, updated 2015) document this change
in a qualitative manner. The dataset presented here allows
these changes to be quantified at samples ranging from a
few hundred to a few thousand glaciers with observation
series. There is a global trend to centennial glacier retreat
from LIA maximum positions, with typical cumulative
values of several hundred to a few thousand metres. In
various mountain ranges, glaciers with decadal response
times have shown intermittent readvances which, however,
were short and thus much less extensive when compared to
the overall frontal retreat. The most recent readvance phases
were reported from Scandinavia and New Zealand in the
1990s (Andreassen and others, 2005; Chinn and others,
2005; Purdie and others, 2014) or from (mainly surge-type
glaciers in) the Karakoram at the beginning of the 21st
century (Hewitt, 2007; Rankl and others, 2014).
Early (geodetic) mass-balance measurements indicate
moderate decadal ice losses of a few dm w.e. a
in the
second half of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th
century, followed by increased ice losses around
0.4 m w.e. a
in the 1940s and 1950s (Table 2). Larger data
samples (from both methods) with better global coverage
document adequately the period of moderate ice loss which
Fig. 5. Seasonal mass-balance anomalies for selected regions from 1950 to 2010. Annual averages of glaciological annual (black), winter
(blue) and summer (red) balance anomalies are shown. For each region, the anomalies are calculated as annual deviations from the
arithmetic mean balances of years with seasonal data. Sample Pearson correlation coefficients (r) are given for winter (B
) and annual (B
) as
well as for summer (B
) and annual (B
) balance samples. The sample size of the seasonal balances is generally smaller than the annual
glaciological sample as given in Figure 4. The regions ACS, ANT, ASE, ASW, GRL, NZL, RUA and TRP are not shown due to a lack of data.
Data source: WGMS (2012, and earlier issues).
Zemp and others: Global glacier decline in the early 21st century 753
followed between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s, as well as
the subsequent acceleration in ice loss to >0.5 mw.e.a
the first decade of the 21st century. Looking at individual
fluctuation series, a high variability and sometimes opposite
behaviour of neighbouring glaciers are found which can be
explained by differences in glacier hypsometry and aspect
and thus accumulation conditions (Kuhn and others, 1985),
or debris cover (Nakawo and others, 2000; Scherler and
others, 2011), or differences in resulting response time
(Jóhannesson and others, 1989; Pelto and Hedlund, 2001). In
some cases local differences are also due to ice dynamics
rather than climate forcing (e.g. for glaciers dominated by
calving (cf. Benn and others, 2007) or surging (cf. Lingle and
Fatland, 2003; Yde and Paasche, 2010; Nuth and others,
2013) processes). The present observational dataset thus
confirms the findings from earlier scientific studies (e.g.
Dyurgerov and Meier, 2005; Kaser and others, 2006;
WGMS, 2008a; Cogley, 2009; Zemp and others, 2009;
Gardner and others, 2013). At the same time, the obser-
vational evidence is in strong contrast to statements
repeatedly made in the grey literature claiming that (1)
glacier retreat or mass loss could not be substantively
evidenced globally (e.g. Crichton, 2004; Easterbrook and
others, 2013) or that (2) glaciers are globally not retreating
but advancing (e.g. Felix, 1999, 2014). In both cases,
conclusions are drawn from small and biased data samples,
ignoring the large amount of qualitative and quantitative
information available on glacier fluctuations from all around
the world.
4.2. Differences in glacier mass budgets between
samples and methods
At a global level, the mass budgets from the geodetic sample
tend to be more negative than the glaciological results
(Fig. 3). Several studies have already detected similar
differences and raised the question of whether this is
because of differences in observation methods (Lang and
Patzelt, 1971; Krimmel, 1999; Østrem and Haakensen,
Fig. 6. Global front variation observations from 1535 to 2010. (a) Qualitative summary of cumulative mean annual front variations. The
colours range from dark blue for maximum extents (+2.5 km) to dark red for minimum extents (–1.6 km) relative to the extent in 1950 as a
common reference (i.e. 0 km in white). (b) Qualitative summary of the ratio of advancing glaciers. The colours range from white for years
with no reported advances to dark blue for years with a large ratio of advancing glaciers (192 of 3138 records >50%). Periods with very
small data samples (n< 6) are masked in dark grey. The figure is based on all available front variation observations and reconstructions,
excluding absolute annual front variations larger than 210 m a
to reduce effects of calving and surging glaciers. Source: WGMS (2012, and
earlier issues).
Zemp and others: Global glacier decline in the early 21st century754
1999; Cox and March, 2004) or a bias in the glacier sample
(e.g. Kaser and others, 2006). Earlier studies showed that the
glaciological dataset is subject to issues related to moving
sample size. However, the temporal variability and the
absolute cumulative values of the global glaciological
sample agree well with corresponding values of the subset
of ‘reference’ glaciers with >30 years of continued obser-
vation (cf. Zemp and others, 2009). Also, looking at
differences in observation methods in individual regions,
the overall trends from the glaciological and geodetic
methods agree well (ASC, ASE, ASN, ASW, ISL, SCA, SJM,
WNA). The larger biases seem to stem from differing glacier
samples at a regional level as discussed below.
In Alaska, the results from the large geodetic sample
follow the general trend of the glaciological sample but are
clearly more negative. Here the positive bias of the
glaciological method can be explained, at least partly, by
the inclusion of (several) retreating tidewater glaciers
contained in the geodetic record. The glaciological record
basically includes only (the advancing) Taku Glacier, also
found in the geodetic record. In the Caucasus and Middle
East region (CAU) the poor fit in the last two decades is
caused by the very small geodetic sample size, and an
unfortunate mixture of the moderately negative values from
the Caucasus glaciers with the strongly negative values from
Alamkouh Glacier, Iran. In the Southern Andes, the glacio-
logical curve is dominated by the very small glaciers
Echaurren Norte and Piloto Este in the central Andes, and
by Martial Este in Tierra del Fuego, whereas the geodetic
results reflect the changes in the huge Northern and
Southern Patagonia Icefields with their large outlet glaciers.
In other regions, the samples are simply too small for a
sound comparison (ACS, ANT, GRL, NZL, RUA).
Sometimes generic differences between the geodetic and
glaciological methods are used to explain the different
results. For example, the density conversion remains a
critical issue when converting volume changes into mass
changes (Huss, 2013). This conversion reduces the absolute
values of the geodetic method but, at least in the present
study, the reduction is too small to explain the differences.
This can be seen in Figures 3 and 4 where the thickness of the
(grey) line for the geodetic balances corresponds to 60 kg
. Another generic difference is internal accumulation
which can be important for polythermal and cold glaciers.
Internal accumulation is usually not captured by the glacio-
logical method (Zemp and others 2013), i.e. one could
expect a negative bias of the glaciological results in such
regions (e.g. ACN, ASN, SJM). However, this is only indi-
cated in four out of eleven decades in total, with common
data in these four regions. In summary, the differences
between geodetic and glaciological balances are due to
differences in the corresponding samples and, hence, not due
to generic differences between the two methods. These
findings are in line with studies by Cogley (2009) and Zemp
and others (2013) which analyse glaciological and geodetic
mass-balance results from common survey periods. After
considering measurement uncertainties, both studies find no
significant generic difference between the two methods.
4.3. Historically unprecedented early 21st-century
When comparing decadal mean values of available mass-
balance data, it becomes evident that the first decade of the
21st century exhibits the most negative mass balances since
the beginning of observational records (with glaciological
and geodetic balances of –0.5 and –0.8 m w.e. a
, respect-
ively), followed by the last decade of the 20th century (with
balances around –0.5 m w.e. a
; cf. Table 2). This also holds
true for most of the regions with available data. The few
exceptions of regions with good data samples and without a
clear tendency to more negative balance in the past two
decades are Northern Asia, Scandinavia and Svalbard. In
these regions, the Arctic amplification (cf. Serreze and Barry,
2011) apparently has not affected the observed glaciers,
possibly due to their cold or polythermal regime (Dowdes-
well and others, 1997; Hagen and others, 2003). For
extending this picture globally and back in time, we can
include the length change dataset but have to consider that
the frontal variation of a glacier is an indirect, delayed and
filtered response to climatic changes of the past (Jóhannes-
son and others, 1989). As a consequence, a direct and
quantitative comparison of length change rates is not
straightforward but requires analytical or numerical models
that consider climate sensitivity as well as reaction and
response times of each individual glacier. Such recon-
structed decadal change rates are available from studies by
Hoelzle and others (2003; between –0.1 and –0.3 m w.e. a
since the mid-19th century), Haeberli and Holzhauser
(2003; –0.4 m w.e. a
for the 20th century and between
+0.5 and –0.5 m w.e. a
for the past 2000 years) and
Leclercq and others (2011; –0.2 and –0.3 m w.e. a
for the
periods 1800–2005 and 1850–2005, respectively). They all
indicate that current mass loss rates are indeed without
precedent, at least for the observational time period and
probably also for recorded history (Haeberli and Holzhau-
ser, 2003; Holzhauser and others, 2005; Luckman, 2006;
Jomelli and others, 2011; Le Roy and others, 2015). Only
Marzeion and others (2012) report modelled mass loss rates
higher in the 1930s than in the early 21st century (especially
in the regions GRL, RUA, ACN and ACS). However, they
state that this result may be biased by marine-terminating
glaciers, as their model is not able to distinguish mass loss
from ice afloat or grounded/land-based.
4.4. Glaciological interpretation of glacier changes
The worldwide retreat of glaciers is probably the most prom-
inent icon of global climate change. The causality of global
warming and melting ice is obvious and well understood, at
least in principle, by the general public. In detail, the link
between regional climatic forcing and glacier front variation
is complicated by topographic factors (e.g. glacier hypsom-
etry, slope, aspect) and resulting reaction and response times
(cf. Jóhannesson and others, 1989), which can result in
completely different reactions of neighbouring glaciers
(Kuhn and others, 1985). In this regard it is noteworthy that
the global glacier sample shows a largely homogeneous
retreat both at the centennial timescale and also over the past
few decades. This homogeneous change in a sample cover-
ing a wide range of response times is also strong evidence
that these changes are not the results of random variability
but of globally consistent climatic forcing (cf. Reichert and
others, 2002; Roe, 2011). In more detail, a quantitative link of
glacier length changes to climatic conditions is possible
through glacier mass- and energy-balance modelling in
consideration of glacier dynamics (e.g. Oerlemans, 2001,
and references therein; Leclercq and Oerlemans, 2012).
The geodetic method allows glacier mass changes to be
documented at decadal timescales, while the glaciological
Zemp and others: Global glacier decline in the early 21st century 755
method provides quantitative insights at annual and sea-
sonal resolution. The measurements indicate that centennial
glacier retreat, at least since the mid-20th century, has been
driven mainly by summer balance (in most regions domin-
ated by ablation processes), with winter balances (in most
regions dominated by accumulation processes) contributing
mostly to intermittent decadal periods of glacier mass gain
(Fig. 5) and readvances. The balanced mass budgets
exhibited in the 1970s were followed by accelerated mass
losses in many regions, becoming more homogeneous at the
global scale in the past few decades. During the first decade
of the 21st century, glaciers lost almost 0.7 m w.e. a
of ice,
when averaging the results of glaciological and geodetic
observations. By simply weighting the regional averages
with corresponding regional glacier areas, this results in an
annual global contribution of almost 500 Gt a
to runoff, or
of 1.37 mm a
to mean sea-level rise. Corresponding mean
annual values for the 1970s/80s/90s are 150/160/390 Gt a
or 0.42/0.43/1.08 mm a
, giving a cumulated contribution
of 33 mm to mean sea-level rise over the past four decades.
The latter values are slightly higher than earlier studies using
similar glaciological and geodetic datasets but different
ways of averaging (e.g. Kaser and others, 2006; Cogley,
2009). The corresponding annual contributions to sea-level
rise for the 6 year period 2004–09 were 360 Gt a
(260 Gt
when excluding GRL and ANT) or 0.98 mm a
. This is
37% (23% when excluding GRL and ANT) higher than
estimates based mainly on satellite gravimetry and altimetry
by Gardner and others (2013). Hence, further research is
needed in order to assess the influence of different data
samples and observation techniques on regional and global
estimates of glacier mass budgets.
The above estimates can be extended by the committed
mass loss due to strong imbalance, especially of large
glaciers, which are the primary contributors to sea-level
change. For this purpose, mass balance and AAR are used to
calculate the committed loss in glacier area as (1 – AAR)/
(cf. Mernild and others, 2013). Figure 7 provides an
estimate of the committed change in glacier area under a
constant climate (i.e. average conditions of period 2001–
10), based on the ratio between the decadal average AAR
and the balanced-budget AAR
. The available observations
indicate a further area loss between 25% and 65% in ten
regions. Accounting for regional and global undersampling
errors, Mernild and others (2013) estimated an additional
contribution to global mean sea-level rise of 0.16 0.07 m
even without further global warming. This committed ice
loss will occur on decade-to-century timescales depending
on the glacier’s response time (Jóhannesson and others,
1989). Remaining key challenges in these estimates are the
representativeness of available observation series for the
glaciers and regions where the large ice volumes are stored
(e.g. Zemp and others, 2009; Huss, 2012), as well as the
question of how much of the meltwater will reach the ocean
(e.g. Haeberli and Linsbauer, 2013; Loriaux and Casassa,
2013; Neckel and others, 2014).
Glacier mass balances stemming from both the glacio-
logical and geodetic methods provide conventional bal-
ances which incorporate both climatic forcing and changes
in glacier hypsometry and represent glacier contribution to
runoff. For climate–glacier investigations over longer time
periods, the reference-surface balance might be a more
relevant quantity (cf. Elsberg and others, 2001; Paul, 2010;
Huss and others, 2012). Attributing glacier mass budgets to
anthropogenic forcing requires the application of numerical
modelling. Recently, Marzeion and others (2014) showed
that glacier mass changes in the late 19th and the first half of
the 20th century can be explained satisfactorily by natural
variability, whereas the ice loss of the past few decades
requires that anthropogenic forcing be included.
4.5. The need for a comprehensive uncertainty
A basic requirement of any change study is the definition and
delineation of the glacier boundaries and an assessment of
uncertainties related to debris covers, dead ice bodies,
adjacent perennial snowfields and the bergschrund. In
addition, glaciological and geodetic balances are subject to
systematic and random errors as well as to generic
differences that need to be accounted for in a direct
comparison. For the glaciological method, the three main
error sources are the field measurements (at point locations),
the spatial extrapolation of these results to the entire glacier,
and the change in glacier hypsometry (Zemp and others,
2013). For the geodetic method, the various sources of
potential errors can be generally categorized into sighting
and plotting processes. They are usually assessed by means
of statistical approaches using the population of digital
elevation model (DEM) differences over non-glacier terrain
(Berthier and others, 2004; Rolstad and others, 2009; Nuth
and Kääb, 2011; Zemp and others, 2013). The correct
interpolation of data voids in the resulting difference grids
(Kääb, 2008) is still a matter to be dealt with, while issues of
co-registration (Nuth and Kääb, 2011) and cell size
differences (Paul, 2008) seem to be basically solved
(Gardelle and others, 2012a). In addition, generic differences
Fig. 7. Committed glacier area loss based on AAR observations from
2001 to 2010. This indicator is based on the ratio between the
decadal average AAR and the balanced budget AAR
and provides
an estimate of the committed loss in surface area under sustained
climatic conditions as in the period 2001–10. Regions with <20
observations are indicated by pale colours. There are no AAR
observations of the corresponding period available for ACS, ASE
and RUA. Data source: WGMS (2012, and earlier issues).
Zemp and others: Global glacier decline in the early 21st century756
and related uncertainties with respect to time systems,
density conversions, as well as internal and basal balances
need to be considered (Zemp and others, 2013).
In applications, the assessment of uncertainties is
challenged by the lack of observational error estimates
and by the small size of the glacier samples, which in
addition are subject to shifting population effects. Thus these
global and regional glacier change assessments have had to
rely so far on basic uncertainty assumptions and some
statistical considerations. As a consequence, the resulting
error bars or confidence envelopes are often unrealistically
small or large (cf. Cogley, 2009). In the first case, the small
error bars can be challenged easily by including or
excluding long-term data records (e.g. from tidewater
glaciers) contradicting the general trend. In the second case,
the error bars are set so conservatively that the annual or
pentadal averaged mass budgets become insignificantly
different from zero in spite of the observational fact that
glaciers are losing volume and retreating.
Future research is urgently required to address the
uncertainty assessment of glacier changes in a more
comprehensive way, making use of the recent progress in
understanding observational uncertainties (e.g. Zemp and
others, 2013, and references therein) and by improving
current approaches for the extrapolation from the obser-
vational sample to the total glacier coverage (e.g. Paul and
Haeberli, 2008; Cogley, 2009). To this end, the latest (almost)
globally available DEMs allow geodetic volume changes of
individual glaciers to be computed over entire mountain
ranges (e.g. Berthier and others, 2010, 2014; Gardelle and
others, 2012b; Fischer and others, 2014). Such studies allow
approaches to be developed and tested for extrapolating the
results from local observation series with high temporal
resolution to the entire glacier population in consideration of
the regional climate variability and the local glacier hyp-
sometry (e.g. Paul and Haeberli, 2008; Huss, 2012).
More than a century of internationally coordinated glacier
monitoring efforts have resulted in a comprehensive
collection of data on worldwide glacier fluctuations. This
dataset is not perfect but nevertheless constitutes a unique
treasure for the scientific analysis of glacier changes. Direct
glaciological measurements are available only for a few
hundred glaciers but they provide rich insights into the
annual variability and seasonal components of glacier mass
changes. The volume changes from the geodetic method
come at lower temporal resolution but allow the glacio-
logical sample to be extended in both space and time. A
large number of datasets from recent studies using DEM
differencing is expected to be provided soon to the
database. Observations of front variations provide indirect
and more qualitative information on glacier changes. They
help to complete the global picture in regard to ongoing
trends and can be exploited in a quantitative way using
numerical modelling. With records dating back into the LIA,
they represent a key element for understanding the changes
that occurred in past centuries.
The globally observed mass loss rates of the early 21st
century that are revealed via the glaciological and geodetic
methods are unmatched in the time period of observational
records, or even of recorded history. The observed rate from
the glaciological mass balances is significantly more nega-
tive than the average for the second half of the 20th century
(–0.54 m w.e. a
vs –0.33 m w.e. a
). The value derived
from the geodetic method is four, three and two times larger
than the averages of the periods 1851–1900, 1901–50 and
1951–2000, respectively. At a regional level, the picture is
more variable but clearly shows the excessive mass loss
observed in the two most recent decades from 1991 to
2010. The increased mass loss over the past few decades is
driven mainly by summer balances which are dominated in
most regions by ablation processes. Winter balances seem
to be of secondary importance and show no common trend.
As a consequence of both the extended period of mass loss
and the delayed dynamic reaction, glaciers in many regions
are in strong imbalance with current climatic conditions
and, hence, destined to further substantial ice loss. The
observed retreat of glacier tongues from LIA moraines and
trimlines together with the available (partly annual) front
variation measurements over the past century provide clear
evidence that the existing observation network covers the
global and regional range of changes very well, at least in a
qualitative way. However, a quantitative assessment of
glacier change rates and the determination of related
uncertainties require a better understanding of the repre-
sentativeness of the observational network for the entire
glacier cover in each region.
With a view to climate change scenarios for the end of this
century and corresponding studies related to the modelling
of future glacier changes (Church and others, 2013, and
references therein), we must anticipate further glacier loss far
beyond historical precedent. It is the duty of the internation-
ally coordinated glacier monitoring community to document
these changes. Related key tasks will be to: (1) continue and
extend the long-term glaciological measurement pro-
grammes, (2) provide the corresponding results at the
optimal level (e.g. including seasonal components, balance
distribution with elevation; cf. Braithwaite, 2009) for further
process understanding and model calibration, (3) intensify
the compilation of geodetic data in order to assess glacier
volume changes over entire mountain ranges, (4) extend the
dataset of glacier front variations from observations and
reconstructions both in space and back in time making use of
existing remote-sensing data, (5) better understand and
openly discuss the uncertainties of in situ, air- and space-
borne methods as well as their representativeness for an
individual glacier and the entire glacier coverage, and last
but not least (6) make all data freely available through the
designated world data centers and services.
M. Zemp designed, wrote and revised the manuscript.
M. Zemp, H. Frey, and F. Denzinger analysed the data and
designed the map, figures and tables. All co-authors
contributed to the discussion and writing of the manuscript.
The WGMS staff members compiled all data during period-
ical calls-for-data that are coordinated by the National
Correspondents within their countries.
We thank the thousands of observers and their sponsoring
agencies (as listed in our data reports, i.e. WGMS (2012,
2013), and earlier issues) from around the globe for long-term
collaboration and willingness to share glacier observations.
Zemp and others: Global glacier decline in the early 21st century 757
All data were compiled and made freely available by the
World Glacier Monitoring Service (and its predecessor
organizations). We thank two anonymous reviewers for
constructive comments, and Susan Braun-Clarke for care-
fully polishing the English. M. Zemp, H. Frey, I. Gärtner-Roer
and S.U. Nussbaumer acknowledge financial support by the
Swiss GCOS Office at the Federal Office of Meteorology and
Climatology MeteoSwiss, and F. Paul by the European Space
Agency project Glaciers_cci (4000109873/14/I-NB). This is
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Zemp M and 16 others (2013) Reanalysing glacier mass balance
measurement series. Cryosphere,7(4), 1227–1245 (doi:
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Zemp and others: Global glacier decline in the early 21st century 761
List of WGMS National Correspondents since 2012
Ahlstrøm A.P.,
Anderson B.,
Arenillas M.,
Bajracharya S.,
Baroni C.,
Bidlake W.R.,
Braun L.N.,
Cáceres B.,
Casassa G.,
Ceballos J.L.,
Cobos G.,
Dávila L.R.,
Delgado Granados H.,
Demberel O.,
Demuth M.N.,
Espizua L.,
Fischer A.,
Fujita K.,
Gadek B.,
Ghazanfar A.,
Hagen J.O.,
Hoelzle M.,
Holmlund P.,
Karimi N.,
Li Z.,
Martínez De Pisón E.,
Pelto M.,
Pitte P.,
Popovnin V.V.,
Portocarrero C.A.,
Prinz R.,
Ramirez J.,
Rudell A.,
Sangewar C.V.,
Sigurðsson O.,
Soruco A.,
Tielidze L.,
Usubaliev R.,
Van Ommen T.,
Vincent C.,
Yakovlev A.
National Correspondent for Greenland (GL), Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Copenhagen, Denmark
National Correspondent for New Zealand (NZ), Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand
Former National Correspondent for Spain (ES), Ingeniería 75, S.A., Madrid, Spain
National Correspondent for Nepal (NP), International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Kathmandu, Nepal
National Correspondent for Italy (IT), University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy
Former National Correspondent for the United States of America (US), US Geological Survey, Tacoma, WA, USA
National Correspondent for Germany (DE), Bavarian Academy of Sciences, Munich, Germany
National Correspondent for Ecuador (EC), Instituto Nacional de Meteorología e Hidrología, Quito, Ecuador
National Correspondent for Chile (CL) & Antarctica (AQ), Universidad de Magallanes, Punta Arenas, Chile
National Correspondent for Colombia (CO), Instituto de Hidrología, Meteorología y Estudios Ambientales, Bogotá,
National Correspondent for Spain (ES) & Antarctica (AQ), Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Valencia, Spain
National Correspondent for Peru (PE), Unidad de Glaciología y Recursos Hídricos, Huaraz, Peru
National Correspondent for México (MX), Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México D.F., México
National Correspondent for Mongolia (MN), Khovd University, Khovsd aimag, Mongolia
National Correspondent for Canada (CA), Natural Resources Canada, Ottawa, Canada
Former National Correspondent for Argentina (AR) & Antarctica (AQ), Instituto Argentino de Nivología, Glaciología y
Ciencias Ambientales, Mendoza, Argentina
National Correspondent for Austria (AT), Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Innsbruck, Austria
National Correspondent for Japan (JP), Nagoya University, Nagoya, Japan
National Correspondent for Poland (PL), University of Silesia, Sosnowiec, Poland
National Correspondent for Pakistan (PK), Global Change Impact Studies Center, Islamabad, Pakistan
National Correspondent for Norway (NO), University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
National Correspondent for Switzerland (CH), University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland
National Correspondent for Sweden (SE), University of Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden
National Correspondent for Iran (IR), Ministry of Energy, Tehran, Iran
National Correspondent for China (CN), Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute,
Lanzhou, China
National Correspondent for the United States of America (US), Nichols College, Dudley, MA, USA
National Correspondent for Argentina (AR) & Antarctica (AQ), Instituto Argentino de Nivología, Glaciología y Ciencias
Ambientales, Mendoza, Argentina
National Correspondent for Russia (RU), Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia
Former National Correspondent for Peru (PE), Unidad de Glaciología y Recursos Hídricos, Huaraz, Peru
National Correspondent for Kenya (KE), Tanzania (TZ) & Uganda (UG), University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria
Former National Correspondent for Colombia (CO), Instituto Colombiano de Geología y Minería, Bogotá, Colombia
Former National Correspondent for Australia (AU), Antarctica (AQ) & Indonesia (ID), Australian Antarctic Division,
Victoria, Australia
National Correspondent for India (IN), Geological Survey of India, Lucknow, India
National Correspondent for Kazakhstan (KZ), Institute of Geography, Almaty, Kazakhstan
National Correspondent for Iceland (IS), Icelandic Meteorological Office, Reykjavík, Iceland
National Correspondent for Bolivia (BO), Universidad Mayor de San Andres, La Paz, Bolivia
National Correspondent for Georgia (GE), Ivane Javakhishivili Tbilisi State University, Tbilisi, Georgia
National Correspondent for Kyrgyzstan (KG), Central Asian Institute of Applied Geosciences, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
National Correspondent for Australia (AU) & Antarctica (AQ), Australian Antarctic Division, Tasmania, Australia
National Correspondent for France (FR), Laboratory of Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics, Saint-Martin-d’Hères,
National Correspondent for Uzbekistan (UZ), Center of Hydrometeorological Service, Tashkent, Uzbekistan
MS received 28 January 2015 and accepted in revised form 24 May 2015
Zemp and others: Global glacier decline in the early 21st century762
... Glaciers on Earth are important components of the climate system, and their changes can be used as indicators of climate change (Kaser et al., 2006;Zemp et al., 2015;IPCC 2019). About 12.5% of the land surface is covered by ice, containing around 70% of the world's freshwater (Bamber et al., 2018). ...
... In recent years, the geodetic method has become a widely used technique to assess volume and mass changes of glaciers because of the increase amount of remote sensing data with high temporal and spatial coverage Zemp et al., 2013Zemp et al., , 2015Zemp et al., , 2019. The geodetic mass balance can be derived by differencing topographic observations derived from Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) measurements, airborne Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) (e.g. ...
... The Chilean glacier inventory of Maipo basin revealed approximately 1000 individual debris-free, debris-covered and rock glaciers with an extension of 388.3 km² (Barcaza et al., 2017), representing ⁓2% of the total glacierized area of Chile. Unfortunately, as in many regions of the world, glaciers have undergone retreat and thinning over the last decades (Casassa et al., 2006;Zemp et al., 2015;Malmros et al., 2016;Braun et al., 2019), mainly due to a decrease in precipitation and to atmospheric warming (Carrasco et al., 2005;Pellicciotti et al., 2007;Falvey and Garreaud, 2009;Boisier et al., 2016;Garreaud et al., 2017;Burger et al., 2018). Glacier changes in the Maipo River basin have been documented by Rivera et al. (2000), using aerial photographs and Landsat images. ...
Glaciers on Earth along other components of the cryosphere are important for the climate system. However, it is widely known that the vast majority of glaciers are retreating and thinning since the early part of the 20th century. Additionally, future projections have highlighted that at the end of the 21st century, glaciers are going to lose a considerable part of their remaining mass. These glacier changes have several implications for physical, biological and human systems, affecting the water availability for downstream communities and contribute to sea level rise. Unlike other regions, where glaciers are less relevant for the overall hydrology, glaciers in South America constitute a critical resource since minimum flow levels in headwaters of the Andean mountains are usually sustained by ice melt, especially during late summer and droughts, when the contribution from the seasonal snow cover is depleted. In the last decades, the number of studies has increased considerable, however, in the Southern Andes and the surrounding sub-Antarctic islands glaciers still are less studied in comparison with their counterparts in the Northern Hemisphere. The few studies on glacier mass balance in this region suggest a risk of water scarcity for many Andean cities which freshwater supply depends on glacial meltwater. Additionally, glaciers on sub-Antarctic islands have not been completely assessed and their contribution to the sea level rise has been roughly estimated. Hence, the monitoring of glaciers is critical to provide baseline information for regional climate change adaptation policies and facilitate potential hazard assessments. Close and long-range remote sensing techniques offer the potential for repeated measurements of glacier variables (e.g. glacier mass balance, area changes). In the last decades, the number of sensors and methods has increased considerably, allowing time series analysis as well as new and more precise measurements of glacier changes. The main goal of this thesis is to investigate and provide a detailed quantification of glacier elevation and mass changes of the Southern Andes with strong focus on the Central Andes of Chile and South Georgia. Six comprehensive studies were performed to provide a better understanding of the development and current status of glaciers in this region. Overall, the glacier changes were estimated by means of various remote sensing techniques. For the Andes as a whole, the first continent-wide glacier elevation and mass balance was conducted for 85% of the total glacierized area of South America. A detailed estimation of mass changes using the bi-static synthetic aperture radar interferometry (Shuttle Radar Topography Mission -SRTM- and TerraSAR-X add-on for Digital Elevation Measurements -TanDEM-X- DEMs) over the years 2000 to 2011/2015 was computed. A total mass loss rate of 19.43 ± 0.60 Gt a-1 (0.054 ± 0.002 mm a-1 sea level rise contribution) from elevation changes above ground, sea or lake level was calculated, with an extra 3.06 ± 1.24 Gt a-1 derived from subaqueous ice mass loss. The results indicated that about 83% of the total mass loss observed in this study was contributed by the Patagonian icefields (Northern and Southern), which can largely be explained by the dynamic adjustments of large glaciers. For the Central Andes of Chile, four studies were conducted where detailed times series of glacier area, mass and runoff changes were performed on individual glaciers and at a region level (Maipo River basin). Glaciers in the central Andes of Chile are a fundamental natural resources since they provide freshwater for ecosystems and for the densely populated Metropolitan Region of Chile. The first study was conducted in the Maipo River basin to obtain time series of basin-wide glacier mass balance estimates. The estimations were obtained using historical topographic maps, SRTM, TanDEM-X, and airborne Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) digital elevation models. The results showed spatially heterogeneous glacier elevation and mass changes between 1955 and 2000, with more negative values between 2000 and 2013. A mean basin-wide glacier mass balance of −0.12 ± 0.06 m w.e. a-1 , with a total mass loss of 2.43 ± 0.26 Gt between 1955–2013 was calculated. For this region, a 20% reduction in glacier ice volume since 1955 was observed with associated consequences for the meltwater contribution to the local river system. Individual glacier studies were performed for the Echaurren Norte and El Morado glaciers. Echaurren Norte Glacier is a reference glacier for the World Glacier Monitoring Service. An ensemble of different data sets was used to derive a complete time series of elevation, mass and area changes. For El Morado Glacier, a continuous thinning and retreat since the 20th century was found. Overall, highly negative elevation and mass changes rates were observed from 2010 onwards. This coincides with the severe drought in Chile in this period. Moreover, the evolution of a proglacial lake was traced. If drained, the water volume poses an important risk to down-valley infrastructure. The glacier mass balance for the Central Andes of Chile has been observed to be highly correlated with precipitation (ENSO). All these changes have provoked a glacier volume reduction of one-fifth between 1955 and 2016 and decrease in the glacier runoff contribution in the Maipo basin. The thesis closes with the first island-wide glacier elevation and mass change study for South Georgia glaciers, one of the largest sub-Antarctic islands. There, glaciers changes were inferred by bi-static synthetic aperture radar interferometry between 2000 and 2013. Frontal area changes were mapped between 2003 and 2016 to roughly estimate the subaqueous mass loss. Special focus was given to Szielasko Glacier where repeated GNSS measurements were available from 2012 and 2017. The results showed an average glacier mass balance of −1.04 ± 0.09 m w.e. a-1 and a mass loss rate of 2.28 ± 0.19 Gt a-1 (equivalent to 0.006 ± 0.001 mm a-1 sea level rise) in the period 2000-2013. An extra 0.77 ± 0.04 Gt a-1 was estimated for subaqueous mass loss. The concurrent area change rate of the marine and lake-terminating glaciers amounts to −6.58 ± 0.33 km2 a-1 (2003–2016). Overall, the highest thinning and retreat rates were observed for the large outlet glaciers located at the north-east coast. Neumayer Glacier showed the highest thinning rates with the disintegration of some tributaries. Our comparison between InSAR data and GNSS measurements showed good agreement, demonstrating consistency in the glacier elevation change rates from two different methods. Our glacier elevation and mass changes assessment provides a baseline for further comparison and calibration of model projection in a sparsely investigated region. Future field measurements, long-term climate reanalysis, and glacier system modelling including ice-dynamic changes are required to understand and identify the key forcing factors of the glacier retreat and thinning.
... Mountain glaciers and their fluctuations are recognized as key indicators of climate change; their mass balance primarily reflects a direct response to changing atmospheric conditions, while their volume and length changes (advance and retreat) represent an indirect, delayed, and filtered sig- (Zemp et al., 2015). Debris cover is present on 44 % and prominent (covering >1 km 2 ) on 15 % of the glaciers worldwide (Herreid and Pellicciotti, 2020). ...
... The surface thermal behaviour at the Gruben rock glacier is well in accordance with the observations at other permafrost sites in the region (Valais, Cervinia, Furka, Gotthard), which show a consistent warming trend by about +0.36 • C per decade over the last 20 years ( Fig. 3; PER-MOS, 2020). With mean annual near-surface temperatures close to and even above 0 • C, the thickness of the frozen materials reaching up to about 100 m must be inherited from colder phases of the Holocene and the Little Ice Age (see Haeberli, 1985;Haeberli et al., 2001;Whalley, 2020) and is not in equilibrium with today's climate. In view of pronounced thermal offsets within the active layer (ventilation, Balch effect) and at the permafrost table (latent heat), mean annual permafrost temperatures at the depth of zero annual amplitude (about 15 m) can be expected to be close to thawing conditions but still slightly negative even today. ...
... The changes in the debris-free and the debris-covered part of Gruben glacier indicate typical processes in reaction to the changing climate with increasing temperatures (Zemp et al., 2015). The largely debris-free part of Gruben glacier has been thinning by tens of metres and retreating by hundreds of metres. ...
Full-text available
Digitized aerial images were used to monitor the evolution of perennially frozen debris and polythermal glacier ice at the intensely investigated Gruben site in the Swiss Alps over a period of about 50 years. The photogrammetric analysis allowed for a compilation of detailed spatio-temporal information on flow velocities and thickness changes. In addition, high-resolution GNSS (global navigation satellite system) and ground surface temperature measurements were included in the analysis to provide insight into short-term changes. Over time, extremely contrasting developments and landform responses are documented. Viscous flow within the warming and already near-temperate rock glacier permafrost continued at a constant average but seasonally variable speed of typically decimetres per year, with average surface lowering limited to centimetres to a few decimetres per year. This constant flow causes the continued advance of the characteristic convex, lava-stream-like rock glacier with its oversteepened fronts. Thawing rates of ice-rich perennially frozen ground to strong climate forcing are very low (centimetres per year) and the dynamic response strongly delayed (timescale of decades to centuries). The adjacent cold debris-covered glacier tongue remained an essentially concave landform with diffuse margins, predominantly chaotic surface structure, intermediate thickness losses (decimetres per year), and clear signs of down-wasting and decreasing flow velocity. The former contact zone between the cold glacier margin and the upper part of the rock glacier with disappearing remains of buried glacier ice embedded on top of frozen debris exhibits complex phenomena of thermokarst in massive ice and backflow towards the topographic depression produced by the retreating glacier tongue. As is typical for glaciers in the Alps, the largely debris-free glacier part shows a rapid response (timescale of years) to strong climatic forcing with spectacular retreat (>10 m a−1) and mass loss (up to >1 m w.e. specific mass loss per year). The system of periglacial lakes shows a correspondingly dynamic evolution and had to be controlled by engineering work for hazard protection.
... In recent decades, mountain glaciers have retreated and thinned dramatically as a result of global warming (Zemp et al., 2015). In addition to glacial melting, which proceeds at a relentless pace, winter snow accumulation has been declining in both glacial and non-glacial areas (Matiu et al., 2021), leading to cascade effects on river ecosystems. ...
... In addition to glacial melting, which proceeds at a relentless pace, winter snow accumulation has been declining in both glacial and non-glacial areas (Matiu et al., 2021), leading to cascade effects on river ecosystems. In the European Alps, 76-97% of the actual glacier volume is predicted to disappear within the XXI century (Beniston et al., 2018), and small glaciers with area <0.5 km 2 are expected to disappear within a few decades (Huss and Fischer, 2016;Zemp et al., 2015). These changes affect the hydrological and thermal regimes (Kaser et al., 2010;Immerzeel et al., 2020;Niedrist and Füreder, 2021) and the bio-geochemical cycles, and in turn, the aquatic communities (Milner et al., 2017) of glacial-fed rivers. ...
... With such rates, the glacier lost 3.5 km 2 of the surface since 1980 (= −74%). The loss rate of the glacial area was in line with the observations of Zemp et al. (2015), who reported a loss of 53% for central Europe during the period 2001 ÷ 2010, comparable with the current observations of 40%. As a consequence of this warming dynamics, in the first phase, the glacier runoff increased (up to 1995), following which it decreased gradually, reaching a rate of −130 mmy −1 in the last decade. ...
We evaluated the effect of global warming on invertebrate communities at high altitudes using data from the Careser system. We procured data on air temperature, which was obtained over 50 years at altitudes above 2600 m a.s.l., and data on water temperature, which was available for approximately 30 years. We sampled thrice in the past 20 years (2001, 2014, 2018) at three sampling sites (CR0-metakryal, CR1-hypokryal, CR2-glacio-rhithral) of the Careser glacier-fed stream and its main non-glacial tributary (CR1bis-krenal). Warmer climates were observed in the last decade compared to the 1980s, with a mean maximum summer air temperature (mTmax) increase of 1.7 °C at 2642 m a.s.l. and 1.8 °C at 2858 m a.s.l. Compared to air temperatures, the rise in water temperature was delayed by approximately 20 years; water mTmax started to increase in 2003, reaching 8.1 °C at 2642 m a.s.l. and 2.4 °C at 2858 m a.s.l in the year 2020. The invertebrate community exhibited a delayed response approximately 13 years from the water warming; there was a sequential increase in the number of taxa, Shannon diversity, and after 17 years, functional diversity. In the kryal sites, taxonomical and functional diversity changed more consistently than in the glacio-rhithral site in the same period, due to the arrival of taxa that were previously absent upstream and bearers of entirely new traits. Progressive taxonomical homogenisation was evident with decreasing glacial influence, mainly between glacio-rhithral and krenal sites. The numbers of Diamesa steinboecki, an insect that was adapted to the cold, declined in summer (water mTmax >6 °C and air mTmax >12 °C). This study highlights the mode and time of response of stream invertebrate communities to global warming in alpine streams and provides guidelines for analysing changes in the stream invertebrate communities of other glacial systems in alpine regions.
... Yet, the relative importance of these processes for community assembly in GFS benthic biofilms remains inadequately understood. Increasing our understanding about these mechanisms will be important given the rapid pace of glacier shrinkage worldwide (22) and the potential deleterious effects on GFS microbial diversity. ...
... Collectively, these findings highlight the benthic sediments of GFSs as a distinct habitat with specific biofilm communities and reveal a "vertical" dimension of metacommunity dynamics in GFSs. These findings are critical given that GFS ecosystems are rapidly changing owing to climate-induced glacier shrinkage (22,44). As glaciers shrink, the sedimentary environment in GFSs is expected to change as well, and so will the sources of microorganisms to the GFSs. ...
Microbial life in glacier-fed streams (GFSs) is dominated by benthic biofilms which fulfill critical ecosystem processes. However, it remains unclear how the bacterial communities of these biofilms assemble in stream ecosystems characterized by rapid turnover of benthic habitats and high suspended sediment loads. Using16S rRNA gene amplicon sequence data collected from 54 GFSs across the Himalayas, European Alps, and Scandinavian Mountains, we found that benthic biofilms harbor bacterial communities that are distinct from the bacterial assemblages suspended in the streamwater. Our data showed a decrease in species richness in the benthic biofilms compared to the bacterial cells putatively free-living in the water. The benthic biofilms also differed from the suspended water fractions in terms of community composition. Differential abundance analyses highlighted bacterial families that were specific to the benthic biofilms and the suspended assemblages. Notably, source-sink models suggested that the benthic biofilm communities are not simply a subset of the suspended assemblages. Rather, we found evidence that deterministic processes (e.g., species sorting) shape the benthic biofilm communities. This is unexpected given the high vertical mixing of water and contained bacterial cells in GFSs and further highlights the benthic biofilm mode of life as one that is determined through niche-related processes. Our findings therefore reveal a “native” benthic biofilm community in an ecosystem that is currently threatened by climate-induced glacier shrinkage.
... In particular, small glaciers are clear geo indicators of climate change, as they are more affected by short-term meteorological variations (Huss and Fischer, 2016). They represent relevant components of the local cryosphere and their melting contributes to sea-level rise (Meier et al., 2007;Zemp et al., 2015). Besides the environmental aspect, glaciers impact anthropogenic activities in terms of local economy (Beniston, 2012), water supply (Grunewald and Scheithauer, 2010;Beniston, 2012) and tourism (Fischer et al., 2011). ...
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In mountain glaciers, the influence of bedrock geometry on glacier surface morphology is often assumed; quantitative evidence, however, is rare. In our research, we measured the ice thickness of the Planpincieux Glacier (North-west Italy) and detected the bedrock topography using ground-penetrating radar. Additionally, we investigated the glacier surface morphology using structure from motion and the glacier kinematics using digital image correlation of terrestrial images. A digital terrain analysis showed evidence of recurrent crevasses whose position corresponded to bedrock steps. On average, since 2014, their positions varied between 6 and 14 m and were 40 ± 8 m downstream of the bedrock steps. Bedrock and glacier topography presented out-of-phase correlated undulations that approximately fit a sinusoidal function of different amplitude. Moreover, we show the morphological evolution of an unstable sector whose thickness at the end of the ablation seasons has remained approximately constant since 2014. Contrarily, the ice melting during the 2020 ablation season caused a volume loss of >30%. Since, in general, the damages provoked by a potential ice avalanche depend primarily on the involved volume, this finding demonstrates that frequent morphology monitoring is essential for correct glacial hazard assessment.
... Glaciers in the Alps are in general mainly sensitive to the variability of summer temperatures and associated conditions (sunshine duration, precipitation type) and less to winter season conditions (e.g. Parkes and Goosse, 2020;Zemp et al., 2015). The advances of MM and MOR at the onset of the LIA also coincides with a strong and simultaneous, multi-decadal cooling in the Alpine region as evidenced by a tree-ring based summer temperature reconstruction (Büntgen et al., 2011). ...
The term ‘Little Ice Age’ (LIA) is classically used to define a period of repeated and extensive glacier advances during the last millennium. In the meanwhile, this term is also used to address the period of relatively low temperatures between the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA), or Medieval Warm Period, and present-day warming. The end of the LIA is generally set to the mid or late 1800s CE, however, the published onset dates of the LIA are more variable from the mid 1200s to the late 1500s. At Mont Miné and Morteratsch glaciers, Swiss Alps, we sampled and subsequently analysed detrital as well as in situ tree remnants from the early LIA period. At both glaciers, trees with lifespans of up to about 400 years were buried at various lateral moraine sites. The corresponding advance of both glaciers can be traced from the 1280s until the 1310s. At Morteratsch glacier, this early LIA advance phase culminated likely around 1375 CE. Evidence collected at both glaciers indicates that the ice surfaces were at least c. 12–15 m from the lateral moraine crests deposited during the maximum extent of the LIA. This suggests a similar (though very slightly weaker) magnitude than later LIA advances at our sites. The advances of Mont Miné and Morteratsch glaciers coincide with relatively cool summer temperatures from the late 1200s to the late 1300s. Taken together, the onset of the Little Ice Age in the Alps can be considered to be c. 1260 CE. The Little Ice Age was not a uniform period, but had several phases as can be derived from the records of Alpine glaciers and summer temperatures. We propose a subdivision of the LIA in the European Alps into an early (1260–1380 CE), an intermediate (1380–1575 CE) and a main (1575–1860 CE) phase.
... The glacier fluctuation is mostly associated with the change of area, ice volume, mass and length of the glacier and is considered as direct evidence of climate change and its impact on an environment. In twentieth century, worldwide glaciers are showing higher retreat and loss in glacier mass (Zemp et al., 2015). It is reported that global temperature may rise by 1.5C in next two to three decades (IPCC, 2019), which may trigger the melting of the glacial ice on the Polar area and glaciers of high elevation Himalaya regions. ...
Tree-rings, satellite imageries and glacier field survey records have been studied to evaluate the past fluctuations of Kolahoi glacier, Kashmir valley. Within this study, annually resolved 177 year long (1840-2016 C.E.) tree-ring chronology of Himalayan Blue Pine (Pinus wallichiana) from the Lidder valley is analyzed. The tree-ring chronology has been developed based on the samples collected from the end moraine of Kolahoi glacier and compared with Kolahoi glacial fluctuation data available from various previous studies. The tree-ring chronology showed abrupt increase in its growth from 1970s and has close affinity with faster retreat rate of Kolahoi glacier. In addition, the area and ice volume change of Kolahoi glacier is also synchronous with the growth of P. wallichiana. In our study we provide substantiation that the tree-ring records along with satellite imageries datasets can be utilized to assess the past fluctuation of glacier in Himalaya region.
... The rising NZ-ELA master trend, including a sustained upward displacement of the snowline since the 1990s, is consistent with observed worldwide trends in surface mass balance on glaciers (Zemp and others, 2015;WGMS, 2020WGMS, , 2021Dunn and others, 2021;Hugonnet and others, 2021). This worldwide trend is very likely linked to human greenhouse gas emissions (Marzeion and others, 2014;Roe and others, 2021). ...
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An end of summer snowline (EOSS) photographic dataset for Aotearoa New Zealand contains over four decades of equilibrium line altitude (ELA) observations for more than 50 index glaciers. This dataset provides an opportunity to create a climatological ELA reference series that has sev�eral applications. Our work screened out EOSS sites that had low temporal coverage and also removed limited observations when the official survey did not take place. Snowline data from 41 of 50 glaciers in the EOSS dataset were retained and included in a normalised master snowline series that spans 1977–2020. Application of the regionally representative normalised master snowline series in monthly and seasonally resolved climate response function analyses showed consistently strong relationships with austral warm-season temperatures for land-based stations west of the Southern Alps and the central Tasman Sea. There is a trend towards higher regional snowlines since the 1990s that has been steepening in recent decades. If contemporary decadal normalised master snowline series trends are maintained, the average Southern Alps snowline elevation will be displaced at least 200 m higher than normal by the 2025–2034 decade. More frequent extremely high snowlines are expected to drive more extreme cumulative mass-balance losses that will reduce the glacierised area of Aotearoa New Zealand
The Tien Shan is regarded as the “Water tower of Central Asia,” being a solid reservoir of freshwater resources and also a natural and early warning indicator of climate change. Research on glaciers is important for the sustainable development and management of water resources in Central Asia. This study investigated the spatiotemporal dynamics of glaciers in the northern Tien Shan from 1990 to 2015 using multi-source remote sensing and meteorological data. The results showed that the total area and volume of glaciers in the northern Tien Shan exhibited negative trends, decreasing by 456.43 km2 (16.08%) and 26.14 km3 (16.38%), respectively. The reduction in the total glacier area exhibited an accelerating trend, decreasing by 0.60%/a before 2000, but by 0.71%/a after 2000. Glaciers in the outer northern Tien Shan region, with areas < 2 km2 showed the greatest shrinkage, especially those in the northeastern and southwestern regions. All aspects in the northern Tien Shan exhibited negative trends in the glacier area, especially in the east–west aspects (shrinkage of 24.74–38.37%). Regarding altitude, the termini of glaciers rose continuously from 1990 to 2015, particularly for glaciers below 3700 m, with a total area decrease of 30.37%, and the lower altitude of the glaciers showed a higher area decrease.
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Glaciers play a crucial role in the Earth System: they are important water suppliers to lower‐lying areas during hot and dry periods, and they are major contributors to the observed present‐day sea‐level rise. Glaciers can also act as a source of natural hazards and have a major touristic value. Given their societal importance, there is large scientific interest in better understanding and accurately simulating the temporal evolution of glaciers, both in the past and in the future. Here, we give an overview of the state of the art of simulating the evolution of individual glaciers over decadal to centennial time scales with ice‐dynamical models. We hereby highlight recent advances in the field and emphasize how these go hand‐in‐hand with an increasing availability of on‐site and remotely sensed observations. We also focus on the gap between simplified studies that use parameterizations, typically used for regional and global projections, and detailed assessments for individual glaciers, and explain how recent advances now allow including ice dynamics when modeling glaciers at larger spatial scales. Finally, we provide concrete recommendations concerning the steps and factors to be considered when modeling the evolution of glaciers. We suggest paying particular attention to the model initialization, analyzing how related uncertainties in model input influence the modeled glacier evolution and strongly recommend evaluating the simulated glacier evolution against independent data.
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We present a multi-temporal digital inventory of Svalbard glaciers with the most recent from the late 2000s containing 33 775 km2 of glaciers covering 57% of the total land area of the archipelago. At present, 68% of the glacierized area of Svalbard drains through tidewater glaciers that have a total terminus width of ~ 740 km. The glacierized area over the entire archipelago has decreased by an average of 80 km2 a−1 over the past ~ 30 yr, representing a reduction of 7%. For a sample of ~ 400 glaciers (10 000 km2) in the south and west of Spitsbergen, three digital inventories are available from the 1930/60s, 1990 and 2007 from which we calculate average changes during 2 epochs. In the more recent epoch, the terminus retreat was larger than in the earlier epoch, while area shrinkage was smaller. The contrasting pattern may be explained by the decreased lateral wastage of the glacier tongues. Retreat rates for individual glaciers show a mix of accelerating and decelerating trends, reflecting the large spatial variability of glacier types and climatic/dynamic response times in Svalbard. Lastly, retreat rates estimated by dividing glacier area changes by the tongue width are larger than centerline retreat due to a more encompassing frontal change estimate with inclusion of lateral area loss.
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Since the mid-1980s, glaciers in the European Alps have shown widespread and accelerating mass losses. This article presents glacier-specific changes in surface elevation, volume and mass balance for all glaciers in the Swiss Alps from 1980 to 2010. Together with glacier outlines from the 1973 inventory, the DHM25 Level 1 Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) for which the source data over glacierized areas was acquired from 1961 to 1991 are compared to the swissALTI3D DEMs from 2008–2011 combined with the new Swiss Glacier Inventory SGI2010. Due to the significant differences in acquisition date of the source data used, resulting mass changes are temporally homogenized to directly compare individual glaciers or glacierized catchments. Along with an in-depth accuracy assessment, results are validated against volume changes from independent photogrammetrically derived DEMs of single glaciers. Observed volume changes are largest between 2700–2800 m a.s.l. and remarkable even above 3500 m a.s.l. The mean geodetic mass balance is −0.62 ± 0.03 m w.e. yr−1 for the entire Swiss Alps over the reference period 1980–2010. For the main hydrological catchments, it ranges from −0.52 to −1.07 m w.e. yr−1. The overall volume loss calculated from the DEM differencing is −22.51 ± 0.97 km3.
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We present a model of the global surface mass balance of glaciers, based on the reconstruction and projection of the surface mass balance of all the world's individual glaciers. The model is validated using a leave-one-glacier-out cross validation scheme using 3997 observed surface mass balances of 255 glaciers, and against 756 geodetically observed, temporally integrated volume and surface area changes of 341 glaciers. Between 1902 and 2009, the world's glaciers are reconstructed to have lost mass corresponding to 114 ± 5 mm sea level equivalent (SLE). During the 21st century, they are projected to loose additionally between 148 ± 35 mm SLE (scenario RCP26), 166 ± 42 mm SLE (scenario RCP45), 175 ± 40 mm SLE (scenario RCP60), to 217 ± 47 mm SLE (scenario RCP85). Based on the extended RCP scenarios, glaciers are projected to approach a new equilibrium towards the end of the 23rd century, after having lost between 248 ± 66 mm SLE (scenario RCP26), 313 ± 50 mm SLE (scenario RCP45), to 424 ± 46 mm SLE (scenario RCP85). Up until approximately 2100, ensemble uncertainty within each scenario is the biggest source of uncertainty for the future glacier mass loss; after that, the difference between the scenarios takes over as the biggest source of uncertainty. Rates of mass loss are projected to peak between 2050 and 2100, depending on the scenario.
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Positive glacier-mass balances in the Karakoram region during the last decade have fostered stable and advancing glacier termini positions, while glaciers in the adjacent mountain ranges have been affected by glacier recession and thinning. In addition to fluctuations induced solely by climate, the Karakoram is known for a large number of surge-type glaciers. The present study provides an updated and extended inventory on advancing, stable, retreating, and surge-type glaciers using Landsat imagery from 1976 to 2012. Out of 1219 glaciers the vast majority showed a stable terminus (969) during the observation period. Sixty-five glaciers advanced, 93 glaciers retreated, and 101 surge-type glaciers were identified, of which 10 are new observations. The dimensional and topographic characteristics of each glacier class were calculated and analyzed. Ninety percent of nonsurge-type glaciers are shorter than 10 km, whereas surge-type glaciers are, in general, longer. We report short response times of glaciers in the Karakoram and suggest a shift from negative to balanced/positive mass budgets in the 1980s or 1990s. Additionally, we present glacier surface velocities derived from different SAR (synthetic aperture radar) sensors and different years for a Karakoram-wide coverage. High-resolution SAR data enables the investigation of small and relatively fast-flowing glaciers (e.g., up to 1.8 m day−1 during an active phase of a surge). The combination of multitemporal optical imagery and SAR-based surface velocities enables an improved, Karakoram-wide glacier inventory and hence, provides relevant new observational information on the current state of glaciers in the Karakoram.
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Snow and Ice-Related Hazards, Risks, and Disasters provides you with the latest scientific developments in glacier surges and melting, ice shelf collapses, paleo-climate reconstruction, sea level rise, climate change implications, causality, impacts, preparedness, and mitigation. It takes a geo-scientific approach to the topic while also covering current thinking about directly related social scientific issues that can adversely affect ecosystems and global economies. Puts the contributions from expert oceanographers, geologists, geophysicists, environmental scientists, and climatologists selected by a world-renowned editorial board in your hands Presents the latest research on causality, glacial surges, ice-shelf collapses, sea level rise, climate change implications, and more Numerous tables, maps, diagrams, illustrations and photographs of hazardous processes will be included Features new insights into the implications of climate change on increased melting, collapsing, flooding, methane emissions, and sea level rise
The glaciological investigations on Rhonegletscher were started in 1874. The mass-balance data measured during 1884/85–1908/09 and during 1979/80–1981/82 are presented. Two methods are used for estimating the mass changes. During 1882/83–1968/69, the cumulative specific net balance is −24 ± 6 m w.e. at the 90% confidence level by the regression model of annual mass balance, annual precipitation, and summer air temperature (the PT model), while the thickness change revealed by the maps is −23 ± 5 m w.e. The cumulative specific net balance during 1882/83–1986/87 is −26 ± 6 m w.e. at the 90% confidence level. The study shows that Rhonegletscher generally experienced mass loss, especially during the periods from the late 1920s through the early 1960s with some short periods of positive balance. The glacier tongue retreated by 970 m during 1882–1986, that is, from 1780 ma.s.l. (1882) to 2130 ma.s.1. (1986). During 1882–1969, the ice-covered area decreased by 4.37 km2 and the volume by 4.71 × 108 m3. The PT models of Rhonegletscher and other alpine glaciers suggest that the contribution of the temperature changes to the mass balance is of more importance than that of the precipitation changes. The great mass loss reflects the climatic warming after the end of the Little Ice Age, with the warmest period occurring around the 1940s in this region.
The glaciological investigations on Rhonegletscher were started in 1874. The mass-balance data measured during 1884/85–1908/09 and during 1979/80–1981/82 are presented. Two methods are used for estimating the mass changes. During 1882/83–1968/69, the cumulative specific net balance is −24 ± 6 m w.e. at the 90% confidence level by the regression model of annual mass balance, annual precipitation, and summer air temperature (the PT model), while the thickness change revealed by the maps is −23 ± 5 m w.e. The cumulative specific net balance during 1882/83–1986/87 is −26 ± 6 m w.e. at the 90% confidence level. The study shows that Rhonegletscher generally experienced mass loss, especially during the periods from the late 1920s through the early 1960s with some short periods of positive balance. The glacier tongue retreated by 970 m during 1882–1986, that is, from 1780 ma.s.l. (1882) to 2130 ma.s.1. (1986). During 1882–1969, the ice-covered area decreased by 4.37 km ² and the volume by 4.71 × 10 ⁸ m ³ . The PT models of Rhonegletscher and other alpine glaciers suggest that the contribution of the temperature changes to the mass balance is of more importance than that of the precipitation changes. The great mass loss reflects the climatic warming after the end of the Little Ice Age, with the warmest period occurring around the 1940s in this region.