Study Predicts that 50% of Glaciers will Disappear by 2100

© Calum Muskett

A new study has found that almost half (49%) of the world's glaciers will disappear by 2100, even if global warming is limited to +1.5°C - the most optimistic warming threshold set in the Paris Agreement - with 50% of the loss occurring in the next 30 years. If warming continues at the current scenario of +2.7°C, 68% of the world's glaciers would disappear in a 'widespread deglaciation', scientists predict, while an increase of +4°C would see an 83% loss in number.

The vanishing Mer de Glace in the Mont Blanc Massif.  © Calum Muskett
The vanishing Mer de Glace in the Mont Blanc Massif.
© Calum Muskett

At the current level of warming due to greenhouse gas emissions, Central Europe, western Canada and the US risk a near complete disappearance of all mid-latitude glaciers by 2100, the study suggests. The melting of this glacial ice would lead to water supply issues for two billion people, flooding, sea level rise, other natural hazards and cultural loss.

The impacts of these projected losses were found to be up to 23% greater than previous models had predicted, with sea levels rising by 90mm from 2015 to 2100 under a 1.5°C warming scenario, and by up to 115mm under the current 2.7°C scenario.

'The rapidly increasing glacier mass losses as global temperature increases beyond 1.5°C stresses the urgency of establishing more ambitious climate pledges to preserve the glaciers in these mountainous regions,' the report concludes.

Other studies have made similar projections, but this is the first study to assess the planet's 200,000 glaciers - with the exception of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets - in detail as a whole using satellite mapping, rather than assessing individual glaciers and extrapolating findings to the global glacier picture.

Shortly before COP27, the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative released a new State of the Cryosphere Report 2022, which outlined projections based on various future warming scenarios, and highlighted that the European Alps in particular could preserve a significant portion of its ice over time if warming becomes limited to 1.6-1.8° C, before declining further by 2100. However, the report also noted that glacier losses 'will continue at a steep rate over the next several decades just due to current warming.' 

Over the course of the last century, temperatures in the European Alps have increased by around 2°C, or twice the global average. This summer, heatwaves led to record-breaking June temperatures across the continent, and - catalysed by a lack of snow and precipitation over winter and spring - caused glaciers to vanish at a record rate and the number of life-threatening rockfalls and serac collapses to increase. Rising temperatures also negatively impact biodiversity in the mountains.

Smaller glaciers - including many in the European Alps - are most at risk of extinction. One of the paper's authors, Dr. Matthias Huss, commented on Twitter:

'Even though the difference in overall glacier ice loss by 2100 between a 1.5°C and a 4°C warming is not huge (26% vs 41%) and only unfolds beyond, the survival of small glaciers strongly depends on climate evolution.'

Despite the gloomy findings in this new body of research, scientists say that this is not a reason to stop caring or to give up on climate action. Dr. Huss added: 

'"Every increase in temperature matters" if we want so save our planet's glaciers. Even though many glaciers' destiny is sealed, fast reduction of emissions can prevent the worst impacts.'

Glaciologist Dr. Heidi Sevestre explained in an Instagram Story:

'What's crucial to understand here is that there is still a lot of ice worth saving. A lot of it will disappear in the next few decades, that's right, but if we want any ice left in our mountains for future generations we need to do this work RIGHT NOW.'

She added that 3.5 billion people rely on water from glaciers for drinking, sanitation, hydroelectricity, irrigation and fluvial transport, and that we 'should all care' about glacier loss.

20 countries join the Ambition on Melting Ice group.  © ICCINET
20 countries join the Ambition on Melting Ice group.

At the COP27 climate conference in Egypt last year, major hope for mountain, polar and low-lying regions came from the historic inclusion of the cryosphere in the final cover decision, recognising the impact of climate change on the world's snow and ice and its consequences.

Twenty governments of mountain, polar and low-lying countries also jointly signed a pledge to save the planet. The 'Ambition on Melting Ice on Sea-level Rise and Mountain Water Resources' group aims to ensure that the impacts of cryosphere loss are understood by political leaders and the public - not only within mountain and polar regions, but across the world.

An important step in tackling the climate crisis is to help bring climate-caring politicians into power, Dr. Sevestre told UKC in November 2022 following COP27. 'The one solution I always recommend is to vote for people who respect the work of scientists and who understand the extreme urgency we're currently in,' she said. 'But also to use our own voice to start collective action at work, at school, at the climbing club.'

Less than a week into 2023, temperature records have already been broken across Europe. At least eight European countries reported record January temperatures at the start of 2023. A lack of snow has caused some European ski resorts to close or delay opening. Holidaymakers have described changing plans, while Scottish ski resorts are reporting a boom in numbers due to superior snow coverage compared to Alpine hotspots.

Watch an explainer video of the paper by lead author David Rounce:

Climate Change in the Mountains: Resources

All major mountain-related COP27 events can be replayed on the Cryosphere Pavilion YouTube channel. UN Mountain Partnership events are available on the UN Climate Change YouTube Channel.

The latest mountain climate science reports:

2022 State of the Cryosphere Report

2022 IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (Cross-Chapter Paper 5: Mountains)

2019 IPCC report on High Mountain Areas

Links to mountain-related climate organisations and initiatives:

Mountain Research Initiative

UN Mountain Partnership


Alpine Convention

Mountains Connect

CREA Mont Blanc

International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples

Protect our Winters

Mountain Sentinels

Mountain Genius

Read our UKC/UKH articles on issues relating to climate change and the environment:

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7 Jan

Telling that there's not been a reply to this news yet. Just another consequence of our lifestyles that is too big to confront.

7 Jan

I think it may be more that knowing some of the consequences doesn't really alter things. Global warming is happening, it's going to cause a heap load of sh*t in the future (*) because politically, the necessary changes to limit it are always behind the "curve". We're not really sure of the exact nature of this sh*t but we can sure that there will be a lot of it.

(*) 1. Apart from what it's already done.

& 2. The physical things (like glaciers) are relatively easy to predict, the political/sociological changes are much more unknown and likely to be far more scary.

7 Jan

Yes, within decades millions of people will be without water due to the disappearance of the glaciers that feed their water supply - Peru, Ecuador, China, California and others.

A recent study led by renowned James Hansen has proposed that the rate of warming has been underestimated, due to misunderstandings with regard to lag times, oceans holding heat etc, and that:

" warming should reach 1.5°C by the end of the 2020s and 2°C by 2050."

The Cornell U page is at: x and the paper is free to download.

We're already seeing the effects of warming above 1C. No scientist I know ever thought we'd be able to stop at 1.5C, that was politics and marketing. 2C will be pretty bad for lots of people - and it might effect us sooner than we thought.

7 Jan

Indeed. Among the new or updated forum topics just now:

"Lemosho route, Tips for choosing Kilimanjaro trail"

"Climbing tours in Wadi Rum, Jordan"

"First trip to the USA"

"Anti-Atlas, Tafraout in February - climbing partner?"

"Insurance for Everest trek as part of longer trip"

"Wanted: Hemsedal Ice Guidebook?"

"Accommodation in Siurana"

7 Jan

Holidays are a tiny tokenistic aspect. All global aviation accounts for about 2% of carbon emission.

To seriously halt climate change wouldn't be a case of minor life style changes but radical, almost unimaginable paradigm shifts in the entire way our lives and countries are structured.

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