3.10 Glaciers

Global warming causes  mass loss of glaciers in high mountains worldwide.  Glaciers systems may show  complexity and variation. However, the overall trends are clear: globally the glaciers recede, and this process is likely to accelerate in coming decades.

Glaciers act as “water towers”, storing freshwater in wintertime to release water gradually during dry summer seasons. River flow in dry seasons is crucial for agriculture in many regions. Should glaciers in general disappear, we are likely to see increased river flow in wintertimes, and the river reduced to a trickle or completely dry out during summer seasons, when the water is the most needed for irrigation.

Rapid melting of mountain glaciers destabilise mountainsides, hills and slopes. Severe landslides are one of the unpleasant results of severe glacier melting, and may cause massive damage.

River basins and hydrology


A direct effect of glacier retreat is sea level rise. The water frozen in all the glaciers of the world, mainly in the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland, but also in South American glaciers on the retreat, smaller ice caps and glaciers, would be sufficient to raise sea level by 70 meters at a global level.

Global water resources are facing increasing pressure from climate change and rising consumption. This problem is especially acute in the downstream areas of Hindu Kush Himalayan mountain rivers, which are home to 1.3 billion people – more than the entire continent of Europe. These people live in one of the most populous, disaster-prone and vulnerable regions in the world, yet knowledge about the region’s climate is still limited and scattered.


NASA quiz: Ice and glaciers

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HomeChapter 33. Impacts
3.1 More water vapor
3.2 Sea level rise
3.3 Polar sea ice
3.4 Air pollution
3.5 Acidification
3.6 Health
3.7 Extreme weather
3.8 Economy
3.9 Refugees and conflicts
3.10 Glaciers
3.11 Tipping points
3.12 Biodiversity
3.13 Water
Chapter 44. Ecosystems