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The Mass Balance of Circum-Arctic Glaciers and Recent Climate Change

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Julian A. Dowdeswell
Centre for Glaciology, Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, SY23 3DB, Wales, United Kingdom
Jon Ove Hagen
Department of Physical Geography, University of Oslo, Postboks 1042, Blindern, N-0316, Oslo, Norway
Helgi Björnsson
Science Institute, University of Iceland, Dunhaga 5, 107, Reykjavik, Iceland
Andrey F. Glazovsky
Institute of Geography, Staromonetny 29, Moscow, 109017, Russia
William D. Harrison
Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska, 99775-0800
Per Holmlund
Department of Physical Geography, University of Stockholm, S-10691, Stockholm, Sweden
Jacek Jania
Department of Geomorphology, University of Silesia, ul. Bedzinska 60, 41-200, Sosnowiec, Poland
Roy M. Koerner
Geological Survey of Canada, 601 Booth Street, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A OE8, Canada
Bernard Lefauconnier
Laboratoire de Glaciologie et Geophysique, BP 96, F-38402, Saint Martin d'Hères Cedex, France
C. Simon L. Ommanney
International Glaciological Society, Lensfield Road, Cambridge, CB2 1ER, United Kingdom
Robert H. Thomas
NASA Headquarters, 6000 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20546


The sum of winter accumulation and summer losses of mass from glaciers and ice sheets (net surface mass balance) varies with changing climate. In the Arctic, glaciers and ice caps, excluding the Greenland Ice Sheet, cover about 275,000 km2of both the widely glacierized archipelagos of the Canadian, Norwegian, and Russian High Arctic and the area north of about 60°N in Alaska, Iceland, and Scandinavia. Since the 1940s, surface mass balance time-series of varying length have been acquired from more than 40 Arctic ice caps and glaciers. Most Arctic glaciers have experienced predominantly negative net surface mass balance over the past few decades. There is no uniform recent trend in mass balance for the entire Arctic, although some regional trends occur. Examples are the increasingly negative mass balances for northern Alaska, due to higher summer temperatures, and increasingly positive mass balances for maritime Scandinavia and Iceland, due to increased winter precipitation. The negative mass balance of most Arctic glaciers may be a response to a step-like warming in the early twentieth century at the termination of the cold Little Ice Age. Arctic ice masses outside Greenland are at present contributing about 0.13 mm yr−1to global sea-level rise.

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University of Washington

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