Letter | Published:

Low sea level rise projections from mountain glaciers and icecaps under global warming

Nature volume 439, pages 311313 (19 January 2006) | Download Citation



The mean sea level has been projected to rise in the 21st century as a result of global warming1. Such projections of sea level change depend on estimated future greenhouse emissions and on differing models, but model-average results from a mid-range scenario (A1B) suggests a 0.387-m rise by 2100 (refs 1, 2). The largest contributions to sea level rise are estimated to come from thermal expansion (0.288 m) and the melting of mountain glaciers and icecaps (0.106 m), with smaller inputs from Greenland (0.024 m) and Antarctica (- 0.074 m)1. Here we apply a melt model3 and a geometric volume model4 to our lower estimate of ice volume5,6,7 and assess the contribution of glaciers to sea level rise, excluding those in Greenland and Antarctica. We provide the first separate assessment of melt contributions from mountain glaciers and icecaps, as well as an improved treatment of volume shrinkage. We find that icecaps melt more slowly than mountain glaciers, whose area declines rapidly in the 21st century, making glaciers a limiting source for ice melt. Using two climate models, we project sea level rise due to melting of mountain glaciers and icecaps to be 0.046 and 0.051 m by 2100, about half that of previous projections1,8.

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Much of this work was supported by the HGF Strategiefonds Projekt (S.C.B.R.). We acknowledge the international modelling groups for providing their data for analysis, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) for collecting and archiving the model data, the JSC/CLIVAR Working Group on Coupled Modelling (WGCM) and their Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) and Climate Simulation Panel for organizing the model data analysis activity, and the IPCC WG1 TSU for technical support. The IPCC Data Archive at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science, US Department of Energy.

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    • Sarah C. B. Raper

    †Present address: CATE, Dalton Research Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester M1 5GD, UK


  1. Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, 27515 Bremerhaven, Germany

    • Sarah C. B. Raper
  2. School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK

    • Roger J. Braithwaite


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Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sarah C. B. Raper.

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    Supplementary Table 1

    Sensitivity analysis: parameter settings and experiment results exploring uncertainty.

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