Changes in Glacier Mass Balance

Glaciers are among the most defining elements of the circumpolar North. Their characteristics, particularly their spatial extent and surface properties, are strongly coupled to climate. Glacier mass depends on precipitation and atmospheric temperatures. Their retreat has a bearing on the regional to global radiation balance as well as on sea-level rise (Gregory and Oerlemans, 1998; Haeberli, 1995; Haeberli et al, 1989).

Global inventories of glacier properties indicate that there has been a coherent retreat of glaciers over the course of the last 100 years (Oerlemans, 1994; see Glacier Mass Balance). When modeling the climate sensitivity of glaciers, the observed retreat can be explained by a linear warming trend of 0.66°C per century.

In Alaska, glaciers have also receded over the last 40 years (Weller and Lange, 1999). Typical thickness changes amount to a thinning of up to 10 m over this period. A sustained warming of 1°C apparently reduces the length of glaciers by about 15%.

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