Glaciers exist on every continent, but until now there has been no definitive source of information on where and how large they are, or indeed how many exist. This week, in the Journal of Glaciology, an international group of scientists from 18 nations publish the first globally-complete inventory of glaciers on Earth.
This digital inventory contains details of more than 200,000 glaciers from all glaciated regions. Together these glaciers cover 730,000 square kilometres, an area as large as Germany, Switzerland, and Poland together. They contain around 170,000 cubic kilometres of ice – enough if melted to raise global sea level by 35-47 cm.
The inventory is a crucial resource for glaciologists seeking to provide projections of ice-loss from glaciers during the coming century, both as a contribution to sea-level rise and as an important factor controlling the availability of water resources.
The Randolph Glacier Inventory (RGI), a name that arose from the location of a meeting in New Hampshire where the project was established, is the product of several years of intensive work by 70 scientists. It consists of digital outlines that can be overlaid on regional or global-scale maps.
A strong stimulus for completing the inventory was to support studies that input to the recently-published Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but the inventory is now available to everyone for whatever purpose. “I don’t think anyone could have made meaningful progress on projecting glacier changes if the Randolph Glacier inventory had not been available”, said the University of Colorado’s Prof. Tad Pfeffer, lead author of the study.
The development of the RGI was supported by funding from many agencies including the European Space Agency, NASA, and ice2sea, a project funded by the European Union through its Framework 7 Programme.
Dr Frank Paul, an ice2sea scientist working in the University of Zurich and co-author of the study, said, “The rapid shrinkage of glaciers over the last 20 years is easily seen in the European Alps and in other parts of the world. The Randolph Glacier Inventory provides a baseline against which to measure glacier change on a global scale, and it provides the starting point for numerical models that are used to project future change”.
His colleague Dr Tobias Bolch, another member of ice2sea, added, “In many otherwise dry mountain regions, seasonal flow of rivers is controlled by melt from glaciers. In Europe, and in many other parts of the world where glaciers are diminishing, seasonal patterns of river flow will change, affecting people’s lives and livelihoods. Accurate knowledge of water reserves and their future evolution is important for local authorities if they are to protect their people against loss of glaciers in the future”.
Notes to editors
Download the paper directly from http://www.igsoc.org/journal/60/221/j13J176.pdf or email the contacts below.
Pfeffer, W.T., Arendt, A. A., Bliss, A., Bolch, T., Cogley, J. G., Gardner, A. S., Hagen, J.-O., Hock, R., Kaser, G., Kienholz, C., Miles, E. S., Moholdt, G., Mölg, N., Paul, F., Radic, V., Rastner, P., Raup, B. H., Rich, J., Sharp, M. J. and the Randolph Consortium: The Randolph Glacier Inventory (2014): a globally complete inventory of glaciers. Journal of Glaciology 60(221), doi:10.3189/2014JoG13J176.
Frank Paul: firstname.lastname@example.org, T:+41 44 6355175
Tobias Bolch: email@example.com, T: +41 44 6355236
Project ice2sea: www.ice2sea.eu
Project Glaciers_cci: www.esa-glaciers-cci.org
Ice2sea brings together the EU’s scientific and operational expertise from 24 leading institutions across Europe and beyond. Improved projections of the contribution of ice to sea-level rise produced by this major programme funded by the European Commission’s Framework 7 Programme (grant agreement 226375) informed the fifth IPCC report. www.ice2sea.eu.