A survey of available mass-balance data shows that glaciers on arctic islands, i.e. mountain glaciers and ice caps in northern Canada, Greenland, Svalbard and the Eurasian islands, share mass-balance characteristics of low annual amplitude and small interannual variability. By contrast, glaciers around the Arctic (e.g. in Alaska, Iceland, mainland Scandinavia and northern Eurasia) can have exceptionally large annual amplitude and interannual variability but otherwise share characteristics with glaciers in lower latitudes. The arctic island glaciers occur in areas with low annual precipitation and high annual temperature variability, i.e. in dry-cold or continental regions. Most glaciers surrounding the Arctic (Alaska, Iceland and Scandinavia) occur in areas with high annual precipitation and low annual temperature variability, i.e. in wet-warm or maritime regions. Earlier mass-balance modelling showed that arctic island glaciers have low sensitivity to temperature changes consistent with their low mass-balance amplitude. However, very large changes in mass balance could occur on arctic island glaciers if the sea ice surrounding the arctic islands were reduced so that the climate of the arctic islands becomes more maritime.