Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Regionally differentiated contribution of mountain glaciers and ice caps to future sea-level rise


The contribution to sea-level rise from mountain glaciers and ice caps has grown over the past decades. They are expected to remain an important component of eustatic sea-level rise for at least another century1,2, despite indications of accelerated wastage of the ice sheets3,4,5. However, it is difficult to project the future contribution of these small-scale glaciers to sea-level rise on a global scale. Here, we project their volume changes due to melt in response to transient, spatially differentiated twenty-first century projections of temperature and precipitation from ten global climate models. We conduct the simulations directly on the more than 120,000 glaciers now available in the World Glacier Inventory6, and upscale the changes to 19 regions that contain all mountain glaciers and ice caps in the world (excluding the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets). According to our multi-model mean, sea-level rise from glacier wastage by 2100 will amount to 0.124±0.037 m, with the largest contribution from glaciers in Arctic Canada, Alaska and Antarctica. Total glacier volume will be reduced by 21±6%, but some regions are projected to lose up to 75% of their present ice volume. Ice losses on such a scale may have substantial impacts on regional hydrology and water availability7.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Glacier volume evolutions in response to GCM projections.
Figure 2: Model projections for 2001–2100.
Figure 3: Regional twenty-first-century glacier volume change.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Meier, M. F. et al. Glaciers dominate eustatic sea-level rise in the 21st century. Science 317, 1064–1067 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Cogley, J. G. Geodetic and direct mass-balance measurements: Comparison and joint analysis. Ann. Glaciol. 50, 96–100 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Rignot, E. & Kanagaratnam, P. Changes in the velocity structure of the Greenland ice sheet. Science 311, 986–990 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Allison, I., Alley, R. B., Fricker, H. A., Thomas, R. H. & Warner, R. C. Ice sheet mass balance and sea level. Antarct. Sci. 21, 413–426 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Cazenave, A. et al. Sea level budget over 2003–2008: A reevaluation from GRACE space gravimetry, satellite altimetry and Argo. Glob. Planet. Change 65, 83–88 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Cogley, J. G. A more complete version of the world glacier inventory. Ann. Glaciol. 50, 32–38 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Hock, R., Jansson, P. & Braun, L. in Global Change and Mountain Regions—A State of Knowledge Overview (eds Huber, U. M., Reasoner, M. A. & Bugmann, H.) (Springer, 2005).

    Google Scholar 

  8. Lemke, P. et al. in IPCC Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (eds Solomon, S. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Meehl, G. A. et al. in IPCC Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (eds Solomon, S. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Raper, S. C. B. & Braithwaite, R. J. Low sea level rise projections from mountain glaciers and ice caps under global warming. Nature 439, 311–313 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Nakićenović, N. & Sward, R. (eds) Special Report on Emission Scenarios 570–599 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000).

  12. Radić, V. & Hock, R. Regional and global volumes of glaciers derived from statistical upscaling of glacier inventory data. J. Geophys. Res. 115, F01010 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Dyurgerov, M. B. Glacier Mass Balance and Regime: Data of Measurements and Analysis, INSTAAR Occasional Paper No. 55 (2002).

  14. Dyurgerov, M. B. & Meier, M. F. Glaciers and the Changing Earth System: A 2004 Snapshot. Occasional Paper 58, Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, (Univ. Colorado, 2005).

  15. Heaberli, W. et al. Fluctuations of Glaciers, 1995–2000, Vol. 8 (Intl. Comm. on Snow and Ice, Intl. Assoc. of Hydrol. Sci./UNESCO, 2005).

  16. Kållberg, P. W., Simmons, A. J., Uppala, S. M. & Fuentes, M. The ERA-40 Archive. ERA-40 Project Report Series 17, (ECMWF, 2004).

  17. Beck, C., Grieser, J. & Rudolf, B. A New Monthly Precipitation Climatology for the Global Land Areas for the Period 1951 to 2000. Climate Status Report 2004, (German Weather Service, 2005).

  18. Bahr, D. B., Meier, M. F. & Peckham, S. D. The physical basis of glacier volume–area scaling. J. Geophys. Res. 102, 20355–20362 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Radić, V., Hock, R. & Oerlemans, J. Analysis of scaling methods in deriving future volume evolutions of valley glaciers. J. Glaciol. 54, 601–612 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Burgess, D., Sharp, M., Mair, D., Dowdeswell, J. & Benham, T. Flow dynamics and iceberg calving rates of Devon Ice Cap, Nunavut, Canada. J. Glaciol. 51, 219–230 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Dowdeswell, J. A., Benham, T. J., Strozzi, T. & Hagen, O. Iceberg calving flux and mass balance of the Austfonna ice cap on Nordaustlandet, Svalbard. J. Geophys. Res. 113, F03022 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Kaser, G., Cogley, J. G., Dyurgerov, M. B., Meier, M. F. & Ohmura, A. Mass balance of glaciers and ice caps: Consensus estimates for 1961–2004. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33, L19501 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Hock, R., de Woul, M., Radić, V. & Dyurgerov, M. Mountain glaciers and ice caps around Antarctica make a large sea-level rise contribution. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L07501 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Woodward, J., Sharp, M. & Arendt, A. The influence of superimposed-ice formation on the sensitivity of glacier mass balance to climate change. Ann. Glaciol. 24, 186–190 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Paterson, W. S. B. The Physics of Glaciers 3rd edn (Elsevier, 1994).

    Google Scholar 

  26. The Global Land One-kilometer Base Elevation (GLOBE) (Digital Elevation Model, Version 1.0. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Geophysical Data Center,, 1999).

  27. Radić, V. & Hock, R. Modelling mass balance and future evolution of glaciers using ERA-40 and climate models– A sensitivity study at Storglaciären, Sweden. J. Geophys. Res. 111, F03003 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank A. Rasmussen, F. Anslow, A. Arendt, M. Haseloff and M. Truffer for comments on the manuscript. Mass balance data were provided by M. de Woul, M. Dyurgerov and J. Shea. The Arctic Region Supercomputing Center at the University of Alaska provided computing resources. Funding was provided by FORMAS, Sweden (project 21.4/2005-0387).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



V.R. led the development of this study, prepared all data sets and carried out all calculations. R.H. initiated the study and contributed to the development of the methodology, discussion of results and the writing of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Valentina Radić.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 622 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Radić, V., Hock, R. Regionally differentiated contribution of mountain glaciers and ice caps to future sea-level rise. Nature Geosci 4, 91–94 (2011).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing