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.
This figure shows the cumulative change in mass balance of a set of eight routinely-measured glaciers in the Arctic located at a latitude of 66°N or higher. Each glacier is represented by a different color in the graph. With data beginning in 1945, the measurements are in meters of water equivalent, which is equivalent to the mass loss of the glacier, and representative of changes in the average thickness of a glacier. Cumulative change is determined from the base year of 1970, the first year in which all eight glaciers had annual mass balance data. The map provides the location of each glacier and the Arctic circle (dotted line) for reference.
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.
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.
About Arctic Glacier Mass Balance
This 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.