Climate Research and Development ProgramClimate R&D Program

USGS Glaciers and Climate

Sunrise at Wolverine Glacier, Kenai Mountains, Alaska. Fall 2013.
Sunrise at Wolverine Glacier, Kenai Mountains, Alaska. Fall 2013.

Scientists with the USGS Glaciers and Climate Project study glacier change and the potential societal impacts of glacier mass loss, such as sea-level rise, changing water resources, and environmental hazards. At the core of this research are mass balance measurements at four glaciers in the United States. These glaciers have been studied since the 1960s, and the resulting long-term records offer a unique research opportunity for understanding glacier response to climate. The USGS Glaciers and Climate Project aims to advance the quantitative understanding of glacier-climate interactions, from local to regional scales. A current focus is merging the long-term field records, with newer, but spatially and temporally richer remote sensing data. Additionally, the group is working to ensure consistency and comparability between records as well as evaluating methodological sensitivities.

Gulkana Glacier weather is measured and recorded at this station to aid researchers in calculating surface mass balance.
Gulkana Glacier weather is measured and recorded at this station to aid researchers in calculating surface mass balance.

Why is this research important?

Mass balance measurements, coupled with climate, streamflow and geochemical data, can help to prepare for local, regional, and global implications of changes to Earth's mountain glaciers. With a firm foundation of long-term records, the USGS Glaciology Project continues to broaden its value and impact by incorporating new technologies and expertise over a diverse suite of glaciological challenges.

Project Leads: Shad O'Neel, Dan Fagre, Matt Bachmann
Project Team: Louis Sass, Dan McGrath, Chris McNeil, Adam Clark, Lisa McKeon, Erich Peitzsch

Project Website

20 publications matching the specified parameters were found.

Astrom, J.A., Vallot, D., Schafer, M., Welty, E.Z., O'Neel, S., Bartholomaus, T., Liu, Y., Riikila, T., Zwinger, T., and Timonen, J., 2014, Termini of calving glaciers as self-organized critical systems: Nature Geoscience, v. 7, no. 12, p. 874-878.

Clark, A.M., Harper, J.T., and Fagre, D.B., 2015, Glacier-derived August runoff in northwest Montana: Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, v. 47, no. 1, p. 1-16.

Heeszel, D.S., Fricker, H.A., Bassis, J.N., O'Neel, S., and Walter, F., 2014, Seismicity within a propagating ice shelf rift: The relationship between icequake locations and ice shelf structure: Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, v. 119, no. 4, p. 731-7 44.

O'Neel, S., Hood, E., Arendt, A., and Sass, L., 2014, Assessing streamflow sensitivity to variations in glacier mass balance: Climatic Change, v. 123, no. 2, p. 1-137.

Timm, K., O'Neel, S., Hood, E.W., and Bidlack, A.L., 2014, From icefield to ocean explore the many ways that glaciers influence Alaska's coastal ecosystems. U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Climate Science Center Fact Sheet, Fairbanks AK, 4 p.

Arendt, A., Luthcke, S., Gardner, A., O'Neel, S., Hill, D., Moholdt, G., and Abdalati, W., 2013, Analysis of a GRACE global mascon solution for Gulf of Alaska glaciers: Journal of Glaciology, v. 59, no. 217, p. 913-924.
Available at: 10.3189/2013JoG12J197

Bartholomaus, T. C., Larsen, C. F., and O'Neel, S., 2013, Does calving matter? Evidence for significant submarine melt: Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v. 380, p. 21-30.

Das, A.J., and Stephenson, N.L., 2013, A Natural Resource Condition Assessment for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: Appendix 22 - climatic change: Natural Resource Report NPS/SEKI/ NRR - 2013/665.22.

Welty, E.Z., Bartholomaus, T.C., O'Neel, S., Pfeffer, W.T., 2013, Cameras as clocks: Journal of Glaciology, v. 59, no. 214, p. 275-286.

Bartholomaus, T. C., Larsen,C. F., O'Neel, S., and West, M. E., 2012, Calving seismicity from iceberg-sea surface interactions: Journal of Geophysical Research Earth Surfaces, v. 117, no. F4.
Available at:

Cook, S., Zwinger, T., Rutt, I.C., O'Neel, S., and Murray, T., 2012, Testing the effect of water in crevasses on a physically-based calving model: Annals of Glaciology, v. 53, no. 60, p. 90-96.

Fountain, A.G., Ducklow, H.W., Campbell, J.L., Schuur, E.A., Stammerjohn, S.E., and Williams, M.W., 2012, The disappearing cryosphere: Impacts and ecosystem responses to rapid cryosphere loss: Bioscience, v. 62, no. 4, p. 405-415.
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Hendrikx, J., Peitzsch, E.H. and Fagre, D.B., 2012, Time lapse photography as an approach to understanding glide avalanche activity: Proceedings of 2012 International Snow Science Workshop, Anchorage, AK. September 16-21, 2012.
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McNabb, R.W., Hock, R., O'Neel, S., Rasmussen, L.A., Ahn, Y., Braun, M., Conway, H., Herreid, S., Joughin, I., Pfeffer, W.T., Smith, B.E., and Truffer, M., 2012, Using surface velocities to calculate ice thickness and bed topography: A case study at Columbia Glacier, Alaska, USA: Journal of Glaciology, v. 58, no. 212, p. 1151-1164.
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O'Neel, S., 2012, Surface mass balance of Columbia Glacier, Alaska, 1978 and 2010 balance years: US Geological Survey Data Series, v. 676, p. 8
Available at:

Peitzsch, E.H., Hendrikx, J., and Fagre, D.B., 2012, Timing of wet snow avalanche activity: An analysis from Glacier National Park, Montana, USA: Proceedings of 2012 International Snow Science Workshop, Anchorage, AK. September 16-21, 2012.

Peitzsch, E.H., Hendrikx, J., Fagre, D.B., and Reardon, B. A., 2012, Examining spring wet slab and glide avalanche occurrence along the Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA: Cold Regions Science and Technology, v. 28, p. 73-81.
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Pettit, E., Nystuen,J., O'Neel, S., 2012, Listening to glaciers: passive hydroacoustics near marine-terminating glaciers: Oceanography, v. 25, no. 3, p. 104-105.
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Walter, F., Amundson, J.M., O'Neel, S., Truffer, M., and Fahnestock, M., 2012, Analysis of low-frequency seismic signals generated during a multiple-iceberg calving event at Jakobshavn Isbrae, Greenland: Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface (2003-2012), v. 117, no. F1.

Davies, M., Mix, A., Stoner, J., Addison, J., Jaeger, J., Finney, B., and Wiest, J., 2011, The deglacial transition on the southeastern Alaska Margin: Meltwater input, sea level rise, marine productivity, and sedimentary anoxia: Paleoceanography, v. 26, no. 2.

Glacier Studies

The Glacier Studies project examines the role of glaciers in the environment. Even the basic behavior of these "rivers of ice" was poorly understood until well into the 20th Century. Research has better delineated the relationship between glaciers and climate change, including multiple socio-economic implications like sea level rise, water availability, and hydrologic hazards. However, non-standard behavior characterized during periods of dynamic instability, continues to challenge the glaciological community, both quantitatively and conceptually. A large fraction of uncertainty surrounding glacier change is linked to dynamic instabilities, demonstrating the importance of resolving not only the relationship between direct atmospheric forcing (balance of snowfall and ice melt) of glacier response, but the role of internal dynamics (fast flow, iceberg calving) in an evolving climate system as well. USGS glaciologists are focused on improving understanding of how glaciers "work" and how US glaciers are responding to climate change. We strive to provide enhanced communication with the general public surrounding connections between glacier-climate response and important socio-economic implications including global sea level change, mountain ecosystems and hydrologic systems. The project encompasses research on the US glacier inventory, mass balance, glacier-climate interaction, ice dynamics and calving from tidewater glaciers, and water availability.

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