Climate-driven acceleration of glacier mass loss on global and regional scales during 1961–2016

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


During the past decades, glacier mass loss is becoming increasingly significant worldwide but knowledge about the acceleration is still limited despite its potentially profound impacts on sea level rise, water resources availability and glacial hazards. In this study, we analyzed the acceleration of glacier mass loss based on in-situ measurements and on the latest compilation dataset of direct and geodetic observations for the period 1961–2016. The results showed that the rate of glacier mass loss has increased worldwide during the past decades. At the global scale, the rate of glacier mass loss has been accelerating at 5.76±1.35 Gt a−2 as well as 0.0074±0.0016 m w.e.a−2 on mass balance (refer to the area-averaged mass change value) during the whole period. At regional scales, for mass change rate, the heavily glacierized regions excluding Antarctic and Subantarctic exhibited a larger acceleration compared to other regions. The highest acceleration of mass change was found in Alaska glaciers (1.33±0.47 Gt a−2) over the full period. As for mass balance, high acceleration occurred on the regions with small glaciers as well as on the heavily glacierized regions. Central Europe exhibited the highest acceleration (0.024±0.0088 m w.e.a−2) during 1961–2016. High level of consistency between the acceleration and temperature implies that climate warming had a significant effect on the accelerating of glacier mass loss. Moreover, acceleration of the contribution from the Greenland ice sheet (0.028 to 0.070 mm a−2) and Antarctic ice sheet (0.023 to 0.058 mm a−2) to sea level rise exceeds acceleration of the contribution from global glaciers (0.019±0.013 mm a−2). These results will improve our understanding of the glacier retreat in response to climate change and provide critical information for improving mitigation strategies for impacts that may be caused by glacier melting.

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© 2021, Science China Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11430-020-9700-1

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Science China Earth Sciences