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. Therefore, glacier ice is the second largest reservoir of water on Earth and the largest reservoir of freshwater on Earth!

Learn more: USGS Water Science School -How Much Water is there on Earth?

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Filter Total Items: 9

What is the difference between global warming and climate change?

Although people tend to use these terms interchangeably, global warming is just one aspect of climate change. “Global warming” refers to the rise in global temperatures due mainly to the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. “Climate change” refers to the increasing changes in the measures of climate over a long period...

Which mountain in the conterminous U.S. has the most glaciers?

Mount Rainier, Washington, at 14,410 feet (4,393 meters), the highest peak in the Cascade Range, is a dormant volcano whose glacier ice cover exceeds that of any other mountain in the conterminous United States. Mount Rainier has approximately 26 glaciers. It contains more than five times the glacier area of all the other Cascade volcanoes...

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...

Where are glaciers found in continental North America?

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...

Where are Earth’s glaciers located?

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 Indonesia.

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...

What are the impacts of glacier loss, other than losing an aesthetic landscape feature?

Glaciers act as reservoirs of water that persist through summer. Continual melt from glaciers contributes water to the ecosystem throughout dry months, creating perennial stream habitat and a water source for plants and animals. The cold runoff from glaciers also affects downstream water temperatures. Many aquatic species in mountainous...

What is a glacier?

A glacier is a large, perennial accumulation of crystalline ice, snow, rock, sediment, and often liquid water that originates on land and moves down slope under the influence of its own weight and gravity. Typically, glaciers exist and may even form in areas where: mean annual temperatures are close to the freezing point winter precipitation...

How much natural water is there?

Earth is estimated to hold about 1,460,000,000 cubic kilometers of water. The breakdown of where all that water resides is estimated as follows: Oceans (saline) 1,419,120,000 cubic kilometers Ice caps and glaciers (fresh) 31,244,000 cubic kilometers Groundwater (fresh and saline) 8,906,000 cubic kilometers Streams and lakes (fresh) 132,860 cubic...
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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: October 3, 2016

Rising Sea Levels, Coastal Development’s Effect on Gulf Coast Wetlands

As coastal development along the Gulf Coast continues to expand, tidal saline wetlands could have difficulty adjusting to rising sea levels.

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: March 14, 2016

Up to 70 Percent of Northeast U.S. Coast May Adapt to Rising Seas

Much of the coast from Maine to Virginia is more likely to change than to simply drown in response to rising seas during the next 70 years or so, according to a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Date published: August 14, 2015

Study Shows Sea Level Rise to Threaten West Coast Tidal Wetlands Over the Next 100 Years

The U.S. Geological Survey and Oregon State University released a report this week examining Pacific Northwest tidal wetland vulnerability to sea level rise. Scientists found that, while vulnerability varies from marsh to marsh, most wetlands would likely be resilient to rising sea levels over the next 50-70 years.

Date published: March 18, 2015

From Icefield to Ocean - What Glacier Change Might Mean for the Future of Alaska

Frozen bodies of ice cover nearly 10 percent of the state of Alaska, but the influence of glaciers on the environment, tourism, fisheries, hydropower, and other important Alaska resources is rarely discussed.

Date published: January 20, 2015

Melting Glaciers Increase the Flow of Carbon to Downstream Ecosystems

ANCHORAGE, Alaska Melting glaciers are not just impacting sea level, they are also affecting the flow of organic carbon to the world’s oceans, according to new research that provides the first ever global-scale estimates for the storage and release of organic carbon from glaciers.

Date published: April 29, 2013

Rising Seas Could Threaten Many Acadia NP Marshes

More than 800 acres of uplands in and near Acadia National Park will likely be flooded by the ocean if sea level rises 2 feet during this century, leaving 75 percent of the saltwater marshes along this part of central Maine's rugged coast with very little upland area to migrate into, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study and maps.

Date published: June 24, 2012

Sea Level Rise Accelerating in U.S. Atlantic Coast

Rates of sea level rise are increasing three-to-four times faster along portions of the U.S. Atlantic Coast than globally, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report published in Nature Climate Change. 

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The distribution of water on, in, and above the Earth
October 25, 2019

The distribution of water on, in, and above the Earth

The World's Water - Distribution of Earth's Water

The Earth is a watery place. But just how much water exists on, in, and above our planet? About 71 percent of the Earth's surface is water-covered, and the oceans hold about 96.5 percent

Attribution: Water Resources
Glacier National Park
June 5, 2016

Glacier Bay National Park

View of Glacier Bay National Park from the air.

South Crillon Glacier
June 5, 2016

South Crillon Glacier

Periodic calving of ice from the snout of South Crillon Glacier.

This is a glacier animation for Glacier National Park.
April 5, 2016

Glacier Animation

The simulation below reflects the predicted exponential rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations, a 2xCO2 "global warming" scenario, with a concurrent warming of 2-3 degrees centigrade (4-5 degrees Fahrenheit) by the year 2050. In addition it assumes that precipitation, primarily in the form of rain, will increase over the same time period about 10 percent (based on the

Image: Serpentine Glacier
August 22, 2008

Serpentine Glacier

Serpentine Glacier, Harriman Fiord, western Prince William Sound, AK.

Image: Surprise Glacier
August 22, 2008

Surprise Glacier

Surprise Glacier, Harriman Fiord, western Prince William Sound.

August 6, 2005

Bear Glacier

Oblique aerial photograph that shows the terminus of Bear Glacier, Kenai Mountains, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska.

Image: Muir and Riggs Glaciers, Muir Inlet, Alaska - 2004
August 31, 2004

Muir and Riggs Glaciers, Muir Inlet, Alaska - 2004

The second repeat photograph documents significant changes that have occurred during the 63 years between photographs A and C, and during the 54 years between photographs B and C. Muir Glacier has retreated out of the field of view and is now more than 7 kilometers northwest. Riggs Glacier has retreated as much as 600 meters and thinned more than 250 meters. Note the dense

Image: Muir Glacier in Glacier Bay National Monument 2004
August 1, 2004

Muir Glacier in Glacier Bay National Monument 2004

This August 2004 photo further documents the significant changes that have occurred during the 63 years between photographs A and C, and during the 54 years between photographs B and C. Muir Glacier has retreated out of the field of view and is now nearly 5 miles to the northwest. Riggs Glacier has retreated as much as 2000 ft and thinned by more than 800 feet. Note the

Attribution: Land Resources
Image: ASTER Image of Gangotri Glacier
September 1, 2001

ASTER Image of Gangotri Glacier

Sept 9, 2001 ASTER image showing the position of the terminus of Gangotri Glacier, India, between 1780 and 2001. Image from Jesse Allen, NASA's Earth Observatory. Glacier retreat boundaries courtesy of the U.S. Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center