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Nature. 2019 Apr;568(7752):382-386. doi: 10.1038/s41586-019-1071-0. Epub 2019 Apr 8.

Global glacier mass changes and their contributions to sea-level rise from 1961 to 2016.

Author information

Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
Laboratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology (VAW), ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland.
Université Grenoble Alpes, Irstea, UR ETGR, Grenoble, France.
Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.
Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
Department of Geography and Planning, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Atmospheric and Cryospheric Sciences, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria.
Department of Glaciology, Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia.
Department of Geography, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.


Glaciers distinct from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets cover an area of approximately 706,000 square kilometres globally1, with an estimated total volume of 170,000 cubic kilometres, or 0.4 metres of potential sea-level-rise equivalent2. Retreating and thinning glaciers are icons of climate change3 and affect regional runoff4 as well as global sea level5,6. In past reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, estimates of changes in glacier mass were based on the multiplication of averaged or interpolated results from available observations of a few hundred glaciers by defined regional glacier areas7-10. For data-scarce regions, these results had to be complemented with estimates based on satellite altimetry and gravimetry11. These past approaches were challenged by the small number and heterogeneous spatiotemporal distribution of in situ measurement series and their often unknown ability to represent their respective mountain ranges, as well as by the spatial limitations of satellite altimetry (for which only point data are available) and gravimetry (with its coarse resolution). Here we use an extrapolation of glaciological and geodetic observations to show that glaciers contributed 27 ± 22 millimetres to global mean sea-level rise from 1961 to 2016. Regional specific-mass-change rates for 2006-2016 range from -0.1 metres to -1.2 metres of water equivalent per year, resulting in a global sea-level contribution of 335 ± 144 gigatonnes, or 0.92 ± 0.39 millimetres, per year. Although statistical uncertainty ranges overlap, our conclusions suggest that glacier mass loss may be larger than previously reported11. The present glacier mass loss is equivalent to the sea-level contribution of the Greenland Ice Sheet12, clearly exceeds the loss from the Antarctic Ice Sheet13, and accounts for 25 to 30 per cent of the total observed sea-level rise14. Present mass-loss rates indicate that glaciers could almost disappear in some mountain ranges in this century, while heavily glacierized regions will continue to contribute to sea-level rise beyond 2100.


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