Arctic Glacier Mass Balance
Eight routinely-measured glaciers located north of the Arctic Circle show the cumulative change in mass balance, or the net gain or loss of snow and ice (accumulation vs. melting and sublimation), since 1945.
Date Range: 1945 - 2017
Thickness of Arctic glaciers is declining
The loss of land-based ice in the Arctic has accelerated in recent decades, contributing to global sea level rise.
About Arctic Glacier Mass BalanceThis indicator provides information on the cumulative change in mass balance of glaciers over time. Glacier mass balance data are calculated based on a variety of measurements at the surface of a glacier, including measurements of snow depths and snow density. The net balance is the average mass balance of the glacier from data collected over a glaciological year, the time between the end of the summer ablation season from one year to the next.
The overall Arctic average change in mass balance declined, consistent with the retreat of glaciers observed in other parts of the world. The Engabreen glacier, situated near the coast of Norway, gained mass over the period of record and is more strongly influenced by precipitation than glaciers elsewhere in the Arctic.
Rapid changes are occurring across the Arctic where air temperatures are warming twice as fast as the global average temperature. The loss of land-based ice in the Arctic has accelerated in recent decades and since at least 1972, the Arctic has been the dominant source of global sea-level rise. After Greenland, the largest contributor to global sea-level rise from Arctic land ice, are the Arctic’s glaciers.
Why It's Important
- Glaciers provide visible evidence of changes in temperature and precipitation.
- If increases in greenhouse gas concentrations continue at current rates, it is expected that many of the smallest glaciers across the Arctic would disappear entirely by mid-century.
Explore USGCRP Indicators