Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Human Contribution to Glacier Mass Loss on the Increase


By combining climate and glacier models, scientists headed by Ben Marzeion from the University of Innsbruck have found unambiguous evidence for anthropogenic glacier mass loss in recent decades.

In a paper published in Science, the researchers report that about one quarter of the global glacier mass loss during the period of 1851 to 2010 is attributable to anthropogenic causes. The fraction of human contribution increased steadily and accelerated to almost two thirds between 1991 and 2010.

This image shows the Artesonraju Glacier in Cordillera Blanca, Peru.

Ben Marzeion

The ongoing global glacier retreat causes rising sea-levels, changing seasonal water availability and increasing geo-hazards. While melting glaciers have become emblematic of anthropogenic climate change, glacier extent responds very slowly to climate changes.

“Typically, it takes glaciers decades or centuries to adjust to climate changes,” says climate researcher Ben Marzeion from the Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics of the University of Innsbruck. The global retreat of glaciers observed today started around the middle of the 19th century at the end of the Little Ice Age. Glaciers respond both to naturally caused climate change of past centuries, for example solar variability, and to anthropogenic changes. The real extent of human contribution to glacier mass loss has been unclear until now.

Anthropogenic causes

By using computer simulations of the climate, Ben Marzeion’s team of researchers simulated glacier changes during the period of 1851 and 2010 in a model of glacier evolution. “The results of our models are consistent with observed glacier mass balances,” says Marzeion.

All glaciers in the world outside Antarctica were included in the study. The recently established Randolph Glacier Inventory (RGI), a complete inventory of all glaciers worldwide, enabled the scientists to run their model. “The RGI provides data of nearly all glaciers on the Earth in machine-readable format,” explains Graham Cogley from Trent University in Canada, one of the coordinators of the RGI and co-author of the current study.

Since the climate researchers are able to include different factors contributing to climate change in their model, they can differentiate between natural and anthropogenic influences on glacier mass loss. “While we keep factors such as solar variability and volcanic eruptions unchanged, we are able to modify land use changes and greenhouse gas emissions in our models,” says Ben Marzeion, who sums up the study: “In our data we find unambiguous evidence of anthropogenic contribution to glacier mass loss.”

Significant increase in recent decades

The scientists show that only about one quarter (25 +/-35 %) of the global glacier mass loss during the period of 1851 to 2010 is attributable to anthropogenic causes. However, during the last two decades between 1991 and 2010 the fraction increased to about two thirds (69+/-24%).

“In the 19th and first half of 20th century we observed that glacier mass loss attributable to human activity is hardly noticeable but since then has steadily increased,” says Ben Marzeion. The authors of the study also looked at model results on regional scales.

However, the current observation data is insufficient in general to derive any clear results for specific regions, even though anthropogenic influence is detectable in a few regions such as North America and the Alps. In these regions, glaciers changes are particularly well documented.

The study is supported, among others, by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and the research area Scientific Computing at the University of Innsbruck.

Publication: Attribution of global glacier mass loss to anthropogenic and natural causes. Ben Marzeion, J. Graham Cogley, Kristin Richter, & David Parkes. Science Express, published online August 14 2014 DOI: 10.1126/science.1254702

Priv.-Doz. Dr. Ben Marzeion
Institut für Meteorologie und Geophysik
Universität Innsbruck
phone: +43 512 507-5482

Christian Flatz
Public Relations
University of Innsbruck
phone: +43 512 507 32022

Weitere Informationen: - Attribution of global glacier mass loss to anthropogenic and natural causes. Ben Marzeion, J. Graham Cogley, Kristin Richter, & David Parkes. Science Express, published online August 14 2014 - Website Ben Marzeion - Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics, University of Innsbruck

Dr. Christian Flatz | Universität Innsbruck

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht NASA's Terra satellite sees Typhoon In-fa stretching
24.11.2015 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht To save the earth, better nitrogen use on a hungrier planet must be addressed
24.11.2015 | Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

Im Focus: Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism

Heidelberg physicists use ultracold atoms to imitate the behaviour of electrons in a solid

Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...

Im Focus: Climate Change: Warm water is mixing up life in the Arctic

AWI researchers’ unique 15-year observation series reveals how sensitive marine ecosystems in polar regions are to change

The warming of arctic waters in the wake of climate change is likely to produce radical changes in the marine habitats of the High North. This is indicated by...

Im Focus: Nanocarriers may carry new hope for brain cancer therapy

Berkeley Lab researchers develop nanoparticles that can carry therapeutics across the brain blood barrier

Glioblastoma multiforme, a cancer of the brain also known as "octopus tumors" because of the manner in which the cancer cells extend their tendrils into...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Art Collection Deutsche Börse zeigt Ausstellung „Traces of Disorder“

21.10.2015 | Event News

Siemens Healthcare introduces the Cios family of mobile C-arms

20.10.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Plant Defense as a Biotech Tool

25.11.2015 | Life Sciences

“move“ – on course for the mobility of the future

25.11.2015 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Understanding a missing link in how antidepressants work

25.11.2015 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>