Reference Work Entry

Global Environmental Change

Volume 1 of the series Handbook of Global Environmental Pollution pp 205-210


Glaciers and Climate Change

  • Regine HockAffiliated withGeophysical Institute, University of Alaska Email author 


Coincident with atmospheric warming, glaciers have retreated and thinned around the world. Enhanced glacier melt is the primary cause for the decline of the world’s mountain glaciers. However, rapid and large increases in ice discharge into the oceans, possibly driven by warmer ocean waters, have accelerated the net mass loss of the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica in recent years. Glacier wastage implies substantial economic, societal, and ecological impacts resulting from changes in global sea level, fresh water availability, and other environmental conditions. Glacier mass loss makes up approximately half of the observed sea-level rise during the past two decades with roughly equal shares from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, and the remaining mountain glaciers and ice caps (the other half of sea-level rise is thought due to thermal expansion of seawater). Glacier wastage may also affect the magnitude, timing, and physical and biogeochemical properties of glacier-fed rivers, with potential impacts on global ocean circulation and near-shore marine ecosystems, freshwater resources, and viability of hydropower and irrigation operations.


Glacier mass balance Glacier retreat Glacier runoff Glacier fluctuations Accumulation Ablation Calving Sea level