Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The terminus of the Perito Moreno Glacier in western Patagonia, Argentina pictured in 2005. (Photo: Luca Galuzzi/Wikimedia/cc)

Global Glaciers Melting up to Three Times Rate of 20th Century

New study finds glaciers disappearing at 'historically unprecedented' pace worldwide

Sarah Lazare

The 21st century has already seen a record-smashing decline in the world's glaciers, which are melting at up to three times the rate of the 20th century and will continue to disappear even without further climate change, an alarming new study concludes.

Entitled Historically Unprecedented Global Glacier Decline in the Early 21st Century, the research was published Monday in the Journal of Glaciology and adds to the growing body of evidence that human-made climate change is heating the planet to unseen levels.

The World Glacier Monitoring Service, based at the University of Zurich, compared trends in the first ten years of the 21st century (2001 to 2010) with "all available earlier data from in-situ, air-borne, and satellite-borne observations as well as to reconstructions from pictorial and written sources," according to a report summary.

"The observed glaciers currently lose between half a meter and one meter of its ice thickness every year—this is two to three times more than the corresponding average of the 20th century," explained Michael Zemp, lead author of the study and director of the World Glacier Monitoring Service, in a press statement about the report.

"Exact measurements of this ice loss are reported from a few hundred glaciers only," Zemp continued. "However, these results are qualitatively confirmed from field and satellite-based observations for tens of thousands of glaciers around the world."

Researchers concluded that the current rate of disappearance is "historically unprecedented" and that "centennial glacier retreat is a global phenomenon."

Perhaps most alarmingly, they also found that global warming has led to glacier imbalance that has a momentum of its own. Zemp warned: "These glaciers will suffer further ice loss, even if climate remains stable."

The findings come on the heels of a separate paper released last month by former NASA scientist James Hansen and 16 other climate researchers. They found: "If the ocean continues to accumulate heat and increase melting of marine-terminating ice shelves of Antarctica and Greenland, a point will be reached at which it is impossible to avoid large scale ice sheet disintegration with sea level rise of at least several meters."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Biden Drilling Report Blasted as 'Shocking Capitulation to the Needs of Corporate Polluters'

"Greenlighting more fossil fuel extraction, then pretending it's OK by nudging up royalty rates, is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic," said one campaigner.

Jessica Corbett ·


UNESCO Members Adopt First Global AI Ethics Agreement 'To Benefit Humanity'

"We're at a critical juncture in history," said Ethics in Tech founder Vahid Razavi. "We need as humans to come together and decide what is the best course of action to take with these technologies before they surpass us in their abilities."

Brett Wilkins ·


Progressive US Lawmakers Mark Black Friday With Calls to Pass the PRO Act

"The right to organize, fight for better working conditions, and fair pay must always be protected."

Jessica Corbett ·


'We Are Fighting Back': Global Black Friday Strikes and Protests Seek to #MakeAmazonPay

"We are workers and activists divided by geography and our role in the global economy but united in our commitment to Make Amazon Pay fair wages, its taxes, and for its impact on the planet."

Kenny Stancil ·


'It Was Entirely Avoidable': Rich Countries Blamed as New Covid Variant Sparks Global Alarm

"Allowing new variants to emerge and spread, 13 months into the vaccine era, is a policy choice by the rich world."

Jake Johnson ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo