The Growth and Shrinking of Glaciers 1

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THE interesting publications referred to below show that the study of the fluctuations of glaciers is making good progress. Those of the Swiss Alps have been watched systematically for nearly thirty years, and similar work is now being carried on, not only in all parts of that chain, but also in the Pyrenees, Scandinavia, Bokhara, the Altai, the Tian Shan, and the North American chains, and has been started in the Himalayas. In the European Alps a general retreat of the glaciers began about 1861. At first rapid, it slackened after a time, but, though here and there a glacier has slightly retraced its steps and an advance became more general towards the end of the last century, the majority are still either slowly shrinking or at best stationary. In the French Alps, we learn, sundry small glaciers have quite melted away during the last few years. It is to be hoped that these places will be carefully watched in order to ascertain more precisely the conditions (temperature, precipitation, &c.) under which the formation of a glacier becomes possible. That, as I pointed out in 1894 (see “Ice Work,” part iii., ch. 1.), would enable us to estimate the mean temperature in certain localities during the Glacial epoch, and thus to obtain one firmer footing in that most slippery subject. This shrinkage of the world's ice mantle, we may add, appears to characterise all the countries observed, for only in Scandinavia, and perhaps at Mount St. Elias, are glaciers beginning to advance in notable numbers.


  1. 1

    "Les Variations périodiques des Glaciers". xiime Rapport, 1906, de la Commission Internationale des Glaciers. Résumé par F. A. Forel . Arch. des Sci. Phys. et Nat. Quatr. Pér., t. xxv., pp. 577–587.

  2. 2

    "Les Variations périodiques des Glaciers des Alpes Suisses". By F. A. Forel, E. Muret, P. L. Mercanton and E. Argand . 28me Rapport, 1907. Extrait de l'Annuaire du S.A.C., xliiime année. Pp. 302–331.

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BONNEY, T. The Growth and Shrinking of Glaciers 1 . Nature 78, 574 (1908) doi:10.1038/078574a0

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