Do ice worms exist?

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 Service and the annual Cordova Iceworm Festival in Alaska).

Ice worms belong to the genus Mesenchytraeus, the same genus as earthworms. Ice worms are the only annelid worms known to spend their entire lives on glacier ice. Ice worms can be up to an inch long, and can be black or blue in color. The ice worms come to the surface of the glaciers in the evening and morning to feed on snow algae.

Learn more: USGS Water Science School - Glaciers: Things to Know 

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How old is glacier ice?

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...

Are today's glaciers leftovers from the Pleistocene ice age?

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...

Is glacier ice a type of rock?

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 (H 2 O). Most glacier ice forms through the metamorphism of tens of thousands of individual...

How much of the Earth's water is stored in glaciers?

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...

How would sea level change if all glaciers melted?

There is still some uncertainty about the full volume of glaciers and ice caps on Earth, but if all of them were to melt, global sea level would rise approximately 70 meters (approximately 230 feet), flooding every coastal city on the planet. Learn more: USGS Water Science School: Glaciers and Icecaps National Snow and Ice Data Center: Facts about...

How do we know glaciers are shrinking?

Repeat photography and aerial / satellite photo analysis provide evidence of glacier loss in terms of shape and area. The USGS Benchmark Glacier project has collected mass balance data on a network of glaciers in Alaska, Washington, and Montana for decades, quantifying trends of mass loss at all sites. Extensive field data collection at these...
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Date published: May 10, 2017

Glaciers Rapidly Shrinking and Disappearing: 50 Years of Glacier Change in Montana

The warming climate has dramatically reduced the size of 39 glaciers in Montana since 1966, some by as much as 85 percent, according to data released by the U.S. Geological Survey and Portland State University.

Date published: September 28, 2016

Fifty Years of Glacier Change Research in Alaska

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of the longest continuous glacier research efforts in North America.

Date published: December 4, 2014

Rare Insect Found Only in Glacier National Park Imperiled by Melting Glaciers

The persistence of an already rare aquatic insect, the western glacier stonefly, is being imperiled by the loss of glaciers and increased stream temperatures due to climate warming in mountain ecosystems, according to a new study released in Freshwater Science.

Date published: August 25, 2010

Washington’s Benchmark Glacier Still Shrinking

TACOMA, Wash. — Washington’s only “benchmark” glacier continues to lose mass as a result of changes in climate, according to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Filter Total Items: 10
An ice worm on the tip of a finger
May 12, 2016

A True Ice Worm on La Perouse Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park

A true ice worm (Mesenchytraeus solifugus) on the La Perouse Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park. 

A glacier stonefly (Zapada glacier) on a snowy backdrop in Glacier National Park.
July 24, 2013

Western glacier stonefly on a snowy backdrop in Glacier National Park

A glacier stonefly (Zapada glacier) on a snowy backdrop in Glacier National Park. The species is threatened by climate warming induced glacier and snow loss and has been petitioned for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act due to climate-change-induced habitat loss.

Image: Western Glacier Stonefly
July 23, 2013

Western Glacier Stonefly

The rare western glacier stonefly (Zapada glacier) is native to Glacier National Park and is seeking habitat at higher elevations due to warming stream temperature and glacier loss due to climate warming.

Attribution: Ecosystems
Image: Blue Ice
August 26, 2009

Blue Ice

Ice is pushed away from the hull of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy Aug. 26, 2009.

Image: The Floe
August 19, 2009

The Floe

An ice floe slides down the starboard side of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy Aug. 19, 2009.

Image: Coxe Glacier
August 20, 2008

Coxe Glacier

Coxe Glacier, Barry Arm, western Prince William Sound.

March 2, 2008

Is glacier ice colder than regular ice?

Listen to hear the answer.

Image: Denali Fault: Canwell Glacier
November 4, 2002

Denali Fault: Canwell Glacier

Trace of Denali fault along north margin of Canwell Glacier.

Image: Muir Glacier and Muir Inlet 1980
August 1, 1980

Muir Glacier and Muir Inlet 1980

This ship-deck-based August 1980 photograph of Muir Glacier and Muir Inlet, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, St. Elias Mountains, Alaska, shows the nearly 200-ft-high retreating tidewater end of Muir Glacier with part of its face capped by a few angular pinnacles of ice, called séracs. Note the icebergs in the ship's wake in the lower right side of the photograph.

Attribution: Land Resources
Image: Matanuska Glacier

Matanuska Glacier

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Attribution: Land Resources