Frequently Asked Questions

Climate and Land Use Change

USGS science helps communities understand the implications of change, anticipate the effects of change, and reduce the risks associated with a changing environment.

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Image: Layers of Ice, Hayden Glacier
The age of the oldest glacier ice in Antarctica may approach 1,000,000 years old The age of the oldest glacier ice in Greenland is more than 100,000 years old The age of the oldest Alaskan glacier ice ever recovered (from a basin between Mt. Bona and Mt. Churchill) is about 30,000 years old. Glacier flow moves newly formed ice through the entire...
Lyell and Maclure glaciers, as they were mapped in 1883 by Willard D. Johnson of the U.S. Geological Survey
Yes and no. It depends on which glaciers you are considering. Parts of the Antarctic Continent have had continuous glacier cover for perhaps as long as 20 million years. Other areas, such as valley glaciers of the Antarctic Peninsula and glaciers of the Transantarctic Mountains may date from the early Pleistocene. For Greenland, ice cores and...
Image shows a satellite view of Glacier Bay National Park
No--most of interior Alaska, south of the Brooks Range and north of the Alaska Range, was a non-glaciated grassland refuge habitat for a number of plant and animal species during the maximum Pleistocene glaciation. This ice-free corridor also provided one route for humans to move into North America. Learn more: USGS Water Science School - Glaciers...
Alaska Interior mountain range shot with snow capped mountains.
Based on the most recent comprehensive survey in 2011, there were about 27,000 glaciers in Alaska. However, the number of glaciers is a misleading statistic. Scientists are more interested in total glacial land coverage as a measure. The number of glaciers is less important since large ones can split up into several as they retreat. The amount of...
An ice worm on the tip of a finger
Yes, ice worms do, in fact, exist! They are small worms that live in glacial ice in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia; they have not been found in glaciers elsewhere. Contrary to stories and songs, they do not give glacier ice its blue color and they don't grow to lengths of 50 feet. (These myths were made popular by poet Robert...
Juneau Icefield
Glacier ice, like limestone (for example), is a type of rock. Glacier ice is actually a mono-mineralic rock (a rock made of only one mineral, like limestone which is composed of the mineral calcite). The mineral ice is the crystalline form of water (H2O). Most glacier ice forms through the metamorphism of tens of thousands of individual snowflakes...
Image: Surprise Glacier
Glacier ice is blue because the red (long wavelengths) part of white light is absorbed by ice and the blue (short wavelengths) light is transmitted and scattered. The longer the path light travels in ice, the more blue it appears. Learn more: USGS Water Science School - Glaciers: Things to Know 
Gilkey Glacier, Juneau Icefield, Alaska
Glaciers exist in both the United States and Canada. Most U.S. glaciers are in Alaska; others can be found in Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Nevada (Wheeler Peak Glacier in Great Basin National Park). Utah’s Timpanogos Glacier is now a rock glacier (in which the ice is hidden by rocks), and Idaho’s Otto Glacier has...
Bear Glacier
About 2.1% of all of Earth's water is frozen in glaciers. 97.2% is in the oceans and inland seas 2.1% is in glaciers 0.6% is in groundwater and soil moisture less than 1% is in the atmosphere less than 1% is in lakes and rivers less than 1% is in all living plants and animals. About three-quarters of Earth's freshwater is stored in glaciers....
Monitoring glaciers in Glacier National Park.
A temperate glacier (as opposed to a polar glacier) is a glacier that’s essentially at the melting point, so liquid water coexists with glacier ice. A small change in temperature can have a major impact on temperate glacier melting, area, and volume. Temperate glaciers exist on the continents of North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and...
Image: Surprise Glacier and Cataract Glacier
Glaciers exist on every continent except Australia. Approximate distribution is: 91% in Antarctica 8% in Greenland Less than 0.5% in North America (about 0.1% in Alaska) 0.2% in Asia Less than 0.1% are in South America, Europe, Africa, New Zealand, and Irian Jaya.
Glacier off Sargent Icefield
The Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) occurred about 20,000 years ago, during the last phase of the Pleistocene epoch. At that time, global sea level was more than 400 feet lower than it is today, and glaciers covered approximately: 8% of Earth’s surface 25% of Earth’s land area 33% of Alaska Beginning about 15,000 years ago, continental glaciers...