Sharply increased mass loss from glaciers and ice caps in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago

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Mountain glaciers and ice caps are contributing significantly to present rates of sea level rise and will continue to do so over the next century and beyond1, 2, 3, 4, 5. The Canadian Arctic Archipelago, located off the northwestern shore of Greenland, contains one-third of the global volume of land ice outside the ice sheets6, but its contribution to sea-level change remains largely unknown. Here we show that the Canadian Arctic Archipelago has recently lost 61±7gigatonnes per year (Gtyr−1) of ice, contributing 0.17±0.02 mmyr−1 to sea-level rise. Our estimates are of regional mass changes for the ice caps and glaciers of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago referring to the years 2004 to 2009 and are based on three independent approaches: surface mass-budget modelling plus an estimate of ice discharge (SMB+D), repeat satellite laser altimetry (ICESat) and repeat satellite gravimetry (GRACE). All three approaches show consistent and large mass-loss estimates. Between the periods 2004–2006 and 2007–2009, the rate of mass loss sharply increased from 31±8Gtyr−1 to 92±12Gtyr−1 in direct response to warmer summer temperatures, to which rates of ice loss are highly sensitive (64±14Gtyr−1 per 1K increase). The duration of the study is too short to establish a long-term trend, but for 2007–2009, the increase in the rate of mass loss makes the Canadian Arctic Archipelago the single largest contributor to eustatic sea-level rise outside Greenland and Antarctica.

At a glance


  1. Glaciers and ice caps of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
    Figure 1: Glaciers and ice caps of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

    Black dashed lines delineate the northern and southern study regions. The main panel is an enlargement of the red rectangle superimposed on the map of the Arctic (inset).

  2. Cumulative change in glacier mass between autumn 2003 and autumn 2009.
    Figure 2: Cumulative change in glacier mass between autumn 2003 and autumn 2009.

    Separate estimates are provided for the northern (a) and southern (b) CAA. Error bars represent the 95% confidence interval.

  3. Modelled surface mass budget of the northern CAA between autumn 2003 and autumn 2009.
    Figure 3: Modelled surface mass budget of the northern CAA between autumn 2003 and autumn 2009.

    The model resolution of 0.5km allows us to resolve the highly negative surface mass budgets of the outlet-glacier tongues.


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Author information


  1. Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2E3, Canada

    • Alex S. Gardner &
    • Martin J. Sharp
  2. Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Science, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA

    • Alex S. Gardner
  3. Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, N-0316 Oslo, Norway

    • Geir Moholdt
  4. Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California 92093, USA

    • Geir Moholdt
  5. The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, NL-3730 AE De Bilt, Netherlands

    • Bert Wouters
  6. Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Fairbanks, Alaska 99709, USA

    • Gabriel J. Wolken
  7. Geological Survey of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0E8, Canada

    • David O. Burgess
  8. Department of Geography, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, K9J 7B8, Canada

    • J. Graham Cogley
  9. Department of Geography and Regional Planning, Westfield State University, Westfield, Massachusetts 01086, USA

    • Carsten Braun
  10. Campbell Scientific Canada Corp., Edmonton, Alberta, T5M 1W7, Canada

    • Claude Labine


A.S.G. developed the study and wrote the paper. A.S.G, G.M. and B.W. all contributed equally to the analysis, using SMB+D, ICESat and GRACE, respectively. G.J.W. provided ice and basin outlines, model topography and created Fig. 1. The remaining authors provided in situ measurements. All authors discussed and commented on the manuscript at all stages.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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