AGW Observer

Observations of anthropogenic global warming

Papers on glacier melting

Posted by Ari Jokimäki on November 8, 2009

This is a list of papers on melting glaciers with emphasis on global observational analysis and mass balance measurements. The list is not complete, and will most likely be updated in the future in order to make it more thorough and more representative.

UPDATE (September 17, 2010): Cogley (2009) added.
UPDATE (November 8, 2009): Few links added to the “closely related” section, thanks to mspelto for pointing them out, see the discussion section below. I also added Barry (2006).

Geodetic and direct mass-balance measurements: comparison and joint analysis – Cogley (2009) “This paper describes a new compilation of both direct and geodetic mass-balance measurements, develops a procedure to reduce diverse balance measurements over different time-spans to common time-spans, and presents updated estimates of global average balance of small glaciers based on the enlarged compilation. Although geodetic measurements are fewer than direct measurements, they cover four times as many balance years. Direct and geodetic measurements are unbiased with respect to one another, but differences are often substantial. The statistical procedure can be understood by imagining that an n-year balance measurement is an average of a series of 1 year measurements. The series is hypothetical but we can calculate the uncertainty of each of its elements if, in addition to its measured average, we can also estimate its standard deviation. For this claim to be valid, the annual series must be stationary and normally distributed with independent (roughly, uncorrelated) elements, for which there is reasonable evidence. The need to know the standard deviation means that annual direct measurements from a nearby glacier, or equally reliable information about variability, are indispensable. Given this information, the new methodology results in moderately more negative balances. This is probably because tidewater glaciers are better represented in the geodetic data. In any case, the most recent published estimate of global average balance, 0.8-1.0 mm a−1 of sea-level equivalent for 2001-04, is now increased substantially to 1.1-1.4 mm a−1 for 2001-05.” [Full text, data]

Six decades of glacier mass-balance observations: a review of the worldwide monitoring network – Zemp et al. (2009) A review paper. “Six decades of annual mass-balance data have been compiled and made easily available by the World Glacier Monitoring Service and its predecessor organizations. In total, there have been 3480 annual mass-balance measurements reported from 228 glaciers around the globe. … The available data from the six decades indicate a strong ice loss as early as the 1940s and 1950s followed by a moderate mass loss until the end of the 1970s and a subsequent acceleration that has lasted until now, culminating in a mean overall ice loss of over 20 m w.e. for the period 1946-2006.” [Link to PDF]

After six decades of monitoring glacier mass balance we still need data but it should be richer data – Braithwaite (2009) A review paper (which in my opinion could have a better title). “However, 30 year series from 30 glaciers confirm a recent (1996-2005) trend to very negative mass balance after two decades of nearly zero mass balance.” [Link to PDF]

Glaciers Dominate Eustatic Sea-Level Rise in the 21st Century – Meier et al. (2007) “The contribution of these smaller glaciers has accelerated over the past decade, in part due to marked thinning and retreat of marine-terminating glaciers associated with a dynamic instability that is generally not considered in mass-balance and climate modeling. This acceleration of glacier melt may cause 0.1 to 0.25 meter of additional sea-level rise by 2100”

The status of research on glaciers and global glacier recession: a review – Barry (2006) A review paper. “Nevertheless, there has been substantial glacier retreat since the Little Ice Age and this has accelerated over the last two to three decades. Documenting these changes is hampered by the paucity of observational data. This review outlines the measurements that are available, new techniques that incorporate remotely sensed data, and major findings around the world. The focus is on changes in glacier area, rather than estimates of mass balance and volume changes that address the role of glacier melt in global sea-level rise.” [Link to PDF]

Mass balance of glaciers and ice caps: Consensus estimates for 1961–2004 – Kaser et al. (2006) “Working with comprehensive collections of directly-measured data on the annual mass balance of glaciers other than the two ice sheets, we combine independent analyses to show that there is broad agreement on the evolution of global mass balance since 1960. Mass balance was slightly below zero around 1970 and has been growing more negative since then. Excluding peripheral ice bodies in Greenland and Antarctica, global average specific balance for 1961–1990 was −219 ± 112 kg m−2 a−1, representing 0.33 ± 0.17 mm SLE (sea-level equivalent) a−1. For 2001–2004, the figures are −510 ± 101 kg m−2 a−1 and 0.77±0.15 mm SLE a−1. Including the smaller Greenland and Antarctic glaciers, global total balance becomes 0.38 ± 0.19 mm SLE a−1 for 1961–1990 and 0.98 ± 0.19 mm SLE a−1 for 2001–2004. For 1991–2004 the glacier contribution, 0.77 ± 0.26 mm SLE a−1, is 20–30% of a recent estimate of 3.2 ± 0.4 mm a−1 of total sea-level rise for 1993–2005.” [Link to PDF]

Changes in mountain glaciers and ice caps during the 20th century – Ohmura (2006) “The global mass balance of the glaciers outside Greenland and Antarctica is evaluated based on long-term mass-balance observations on 75 glaciers. The cause of the mass-balance change is investigated by examining winter and summer balances from 34 glaciers. The main finding is a common development in mass-balance changes shared by a number of glaciers separated by large distances and climatic conditions. The average mass balance for the second half of the 20th century was negative at −270 to −280 mm a−1. The negative mass balance was found to be intensified at −10 mm a−2.” [Link to PDF]

Extracting a Climate Signal from 169 Glacier Records – Oerlemans et al. (2005) “I constructed a temperature history for different parts of the world from 169 glacier length records. Using a first-order theory of glacier dynamics, I related changes in glacier length to changes in temperature. … Moderate global warming started in the middle of the 19th century. The reconstructed warming in the first half of the 20th century is 0.5 kelvin.” [Link to PDF]

Secular glacier mass balances derived from cumulative glacier length changes – Hoelzle et al. (2003) “The mean specific mass balance determined from glacier length change data since 1900 shows considerable regional variability but centers around a mean value of about −0.25 m year−1 water equivalent.” [Link to PDF]

Glacier mass balance: the first 50 years of international monitoring – Braithwaite (2002) “The paper reviews measurements of glacier mass balance in the period 1946-95. There are data for 246 glaciers but most records are quite short. The available mass-balance data are biased to Western Europe, North America and the former USSR with too few measurements from other parts of the world. … There is no sign of any recent global trend towards increased glacier melting, and the data mainly reflect variations within and between regions.”

Glacier Mass Balance and Regime: Data of Measurements and Analysis – Duyrgerov et al. (2002) “This is the most complete data set of parameters of glacier regime have ever been compiled and published before. Data presented in appendixes include annual mass balances and related variables of mountain and subpolar glaciers outside the two major ice sheets. … The rate of annual melt-water production (ablation) by glaciers has been increasing, and comprised of about 1.7 m/yr in water equivalent for the period. … The equilibrium-line altitude has risen by 200 m…” [Link to PDF]

On Rates and Acceleration Trends of Global Glacier Mass Changes – Haeberli et al. (1999) “During the coming decades, excess radiation income and sensible heat (a few watts per square metre) as calculated with numerical climate models are both estimated to increase by a factor of about two to four as compared to the mean of the 20th century. The rate of average annual mass loss (a few decimetres per year) measured today on mountain glaciers in various parts of the world now appears to accelerate accordingly, even though detailed interpretation of the complex processes involved remains difficult. Within the framework of secular glacier retreat and Holocene glacier fluctuations, similar rates of change and acceleration must have taken place before, i.e. during times of weak anthropogenic forcing. However, the anthropogenic influences on the atmosphere could now and for the first time represent a major contributing factor to the observed glacier shrinkage at a global scale. Problems with such assessments mainly concern aspects of statistical averaging, regional climate variability, strong differences in glacier sensitivity and relations between mass balance and cumulative glacier length change over decadal to secular time scales. Considerable progress has recently been achieved in these fields of research.”

Mass balance of glaciers other than the ice sheets – Cogley & Adams (1998) “Small glaciers appear to have been at equilibrium or shrinking very slightly during 1961-90, according to analysis of an essentially complete set of published measurements. Simple calculations give an average annual mass balance of 195±59 mm a-1 (water equivalent but this is too low because of systematic errors. … Among the 231 measured glaciers, many are small and belong to a restricted size range in which balance is negative, but much of the small-glacier extent is accounted for by larger glaciers in a size range where balance is indistinguishable from zero. Correcting for this size bias increases the average balance to 35 ±89 mm a-1. Inspection of time series for 1940-95 (251 glaciers shows that mass balance was least negative during the 1960s, and has varied in broad agreement with Northern Hemisphere temperature anomalies;”

Year-to-Year Fluctuations of Global Mass Balance of Small Glaciers and Their Contribution to Sea-Level Changes – Dyurgerov & Meier (1997) “We estimate the means and the interannual variability during the last 30 yr of the mass balances of the small glaciers of the world (all glaciers except for the two large ice sheets), as well as the influence of these mass balance changes on fluctuations of sea level and their relation to climate. … [Area weighted mean] produces a new global mass balance value, averaging -130 +/- 33 mm yr-1, totaling -3.9 m in water equivalent for 1961-1990 period…”

Mass Balance of Mountain and Subpolar Glaciers: A New Global Assessment for 1961-1990 – Dyurgerov & Meier (1997) “The goals of this article are (1) to combine published and unpublished mass balance measured data on more than 200 glaciers, check the quality of the data, digitize, and compile these for the period from the end of World War II (1945) to 1993 (with emphasis on the 1961-1990 period), and (2) to perform a review and analysis of this compilation. A simple global average mass balance for this period is -164 mm yr-1 (totaling -4.9 m) in water equivalent, not including iceberg calving.” [Link to PDF]

Quantifying Global Warming from the Retreat of Glaciers – Oerlemans et al. (1994) “Records of glacier fluctuations compiled by the World Glacier Monitoring Service can be used to derive an independent estimate of global warming during the last 100 years. … The retreat of glaciers during the last 100 years appears to be coherent over the globe. On the basis of modeling of the climate sensitivity of glaciers, the observed glacier retreat can be explained by a linear warming trend of 0.66 kelvin per century.” [Link to PDF]

Contribution of Small Glaciers to Global Sea Level – Meier (1984) “The average observed volume change for the period 1900 to 1961 is scaled to a global average by use of the seasonal amplitude of the mass balance. These data are used to calibrate the models to estimate the changing contribution of glaciers to sea level for the period 1884 to 1975. Although the error band is large, these glaciers appear to account for a third to half of observed rise in sea level, approximately that fraction not explained by thermal expansion of the ocean.”

Closely related

Basics of glacier mass balance are given in this article by Mauri Pelto (and more here).

World Glacier Monitoring Service and their Mass Balance Bulletin (Some of the MBB PDF’s are very large, over 10MB or even over 20MB).


6 Responses to “Papers on glacier melting”

  1. mspelto said

    Nice list as usual. The titles are less about melting than volume change or mass balance.
    You should add a link to at least the most recent WGMS mass balance bulletin.

    Click to access mbb9.pdf

    For more details and pictures on measuring mass balance than the article noted at the end.

  2. Ari Jokimäki said

    Thanks. I added the links.

    The title of the list is not best possible as it turned out to be quite heavy on the mass balance papers. I should dig little deeper to find more papers doing different kinds of analyses. I already tried it and found Barry (2006), a review paper that seems to be just a kind of paper that puts this list more in line with the title. I added that paper to the list.

  3. Paul Middents said


    You know you have created a valuable resource when the professionals contribute to the comments.

    Thank you Dr. Pelto


  4. Kaj Luukko said


    Increasing rates of ice mass loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets revealed by GRACE

    Click to access increasing-rates-of-ice-mass-loss-from-the-greenland-and-antarctic-ice-sheets-revealed-by-grace.pdf

  5. Ari Jokimäki said

    Thanks, Kaj. I have a separate paperlist coming up on ice sheets of greenland and Antarctic, this list is for glaciers only. I’ll make sure that the paper you mentioned is included to the ice sheet list.

  6. Ari Jokimäki said

    I added Cogley (2009).

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