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World Glacier Monitoring

January 2009

2007: Global glacier melt continues
Glaciers around the globe continue to melt at high rates.

Tentative figures for the year 2007, of the World Glacier Monitoring Service at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, indicate a further loss of average ice thickness of roughly 0.67 meter water equivalent (m w.e.). Some glaciers in the European Alps lost up to 2.5 m w.e.

Drilling of an observation stake on a glacier tongue. Density measurements in a snow pit in a glacier accumulation zone.

The new still tentative data of more than 80 glaciers confirm the global trend of fast ice loss since 1980. Glaciers with long-term observation series (30 glaciers in 9 mountain ranges) have experienced a reduction in total thickness of more than 11 m w.e. until 2007. The average annual ice loss during 1980-1999 was roughly 0.3 m w.e. per year. Since 2000, this rate has increased to about 0.7 m w.e. per year.

Glacier in Greenland (Europe)
Michael Zemp, glaciologist and research associate of the WGMS, said: «The average ice loss in 2007 was not as extreme as in 2006, but there were large differences between mountain ranges. Glaciers in the European Alps lost up to 2.5 meters water equivalent of ice, whereas maritime glaciers in Scandinavia were able to gain more than a meter in thickness.

However, 2007 is now the sixth year of this century in which the average ice loss of the reference glaciers has exceeded half a meter. This has resulted in a more than doubling of the melt rates of the 1980s and 90s.»

For the observation period 2007, dramatic ice losses were reported from glaciers in the European Alps, such as of the Hintereisferner (-1.8 m w.e.) or the Sonnblickkess (-2.2 m w.e.) in Austria, the Sarennes (-2.5 m w.e.) in France, the Caresèr (-2.8 m w.e.) in Italy, or of the Silvretta (-1.3 m w.e.) and Gries (-1.7 m w.e.) in Switzerland. In Norway, many maritime glaciers were able to gain mass, e.g. the Nigardsbreen (+1.0 m w.e.) or the Ålfotbreen (+1.3 m w.e.), although the glaciers further inland have continued to shrink, e.g. the Hellstugubreen or the Gråsubreen (both with -0.7 m w.e.).

Mass balance1980-2007 Mass balance 1980-2007
click to get an enlarged version click to get an enlarged version

All mass balance programmes in South American reported negative values ranging from -0.1 m
w.e. at the Echaurren Norte in Chile to -2.2 m w.e. at the Ritacuba Negro in Columbia. In North America some positive values were reported from the North Cascade Mountains and the Juneau Ice Field together with a continued ice loss from the glaciers in the Kenai Mountains and the Alaskan Range as well as from Canada's Coast Mountains and High Arctic.

Source: Universität Zürich /World Glacier Monitoring Service 2009


Measuring unit 'water equivalent'

Glaciologists express the annual mass balance, i.e. the gain or loss in thickness, of a glacier in 'meter water equivalent' (m w.e.). This standardized unit takes the different densities of change measurements in ice, firn and snow into account. One meter of ice thickness corresponds to about 0.9 m w.e.

World Glacier Monitoring Service

The internationally coordinated glacier monitoring was initiated in 1894, following the example of the Swiss national observation network, and has been mainly under Swiss leadership since then. Today, the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) is responsible for the collection and publication of standardized glacier data from around the world. The WGMS is located at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and maintains a collaborative network of national correspondents and principal investigators in the countries involved in glacier monitoring. The long-term measurement series of glacier mass balance produces one of the essential variables within the international climate-related monitoring programmes.

Byrd-Glacier (Antarctica)


Bhutan's glaciers retreating at 30-35 metres a year

More than 50 experts from India, Pakistan, Nepal, UK, Switzerland, Thailand and Bhutan have gathered in Paro to discuss glacial lake outburst, its threats and prevention measures. For Bhutan whose very survival depends on the stability of the lakes, officials say it is a much-needed workshop.

Bhutan has nearly 3,000 lakes of which 24 are identified as potentially dangerous, meaning it may burst in the not too distant future. Every river that runs through every dzongkhag is fed by glacial lakes. To make matters worse, the global warming has accelerated the melting of glaciers around these lakes, filling it up fast. The current melting rate, say geology of mines department, is about 30-35 metres a year.

Home minister Lyonpo Minjur Dorji in his speech to the participants here yesterday called the glacial lakes "silent tsunamis". He said Bhutan needed to be well prepared.

There were no clear-cut answers. That is because "a proper understanding of the processes leading to formation of lakes, its characteristics, the triggers causing an outburst and the consequent socio-economic impact, suitable mitigation and preparedness measures, is yet to emerge in a holistic manner" said UN resident representative in Bhutan, Mr. Bakhodir Burkhanov.

Director of geology and mines department, Dorji Wangda, said that there was no immediate threat of outburst and with the help of new technologies such as Google Earth, mitigation plans onThorthormilake, one of the high risk lakes in Lunana, were on track. It included draining out water from glacial lakes, construction of channels for gradual and regulated discharge of water and compiling inventories of the lakes.

Dorji Wangda said that excavating works onThorthormiLake would be done next year with 300 workers. Earlier few workers had died because they could not adapt to the cold. There was a sum of US$ 7.8 million fund for the mitigation works.

The three-day meeting will focus on the nature and dimensions of the hazard to help frame comprehensive approaches for mitigating its impact and preparedness.

Source: Contributet by Passang Norbu, Kuensel, Bhutan's National Newspaper 2009


VIDEO Bhutan - Nepal
Flight over the Himalayas
UNDP-Film "Revealed: The Himalayan Meltdown"
Nepal's retreating glaciers
East-West Highway: From Thimphu to Mongar
Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang Videos
Bhutan: Lunana's glaciers
Bhutan's glaciers are retreating
About Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang
River rafting Pho Chhu Valley (Photos)
Punakha Dzong
Raphstreng Tsho in Lunana
Bhutan's Glaciers Pictures
Punakha: Traditional Bridges - Bazams
East-West Highway
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GRID UNEP (english)
Global Glacier Changes
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