How would sea level change if glaciers melted?

If all of the glacier ice on Earth were to melt, sea level would rise ~ 80 m (~ 265 ft), flooding every coastal city on the planet.

  • If all of Earth’s temperate glaciers melted, sea level would rise ~ 0.3–0.6 m (~ 1-2 ft).
  • If all of Greenland’s glaciers melted, sea level would rise ~ 6 m (~ 20 ft).
  • If all of Antarctica’s glaciers melted, sea level would rise ~ 73 m (~ 240 ft).
  • If all of Alaska’s glaciers melted, sea level would rise ~ 0.12 m (~ 4.7 in).

Related Content

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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 23, 2015

Sea Level Rise and Storm Wave Flooding Threaten Seabirds

Islands used by tropical seabirds are highly vulnerable to sea level rise according to a new study released today.

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: December 9, 2013

Communities of Southern Chesapeake Bay Find Sea Level Rise Heightened by Sinking Land

Communities and coastal habitats in the southern Chesapeake Bay region face increased flooding because, as seawater levels are rising in the bay, the land surface is also sinking._ A new USGS report released today concludes that intensive groundwater withdrawals are a major cause of the sinking land, or 'land subsidence', that contributes to flooding risks in the region. 

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. 

Date published: May 1, 2012

Rising Groundwater Associated with Sea Level Rise Expected to Impact New Haven

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Basements of some local buildings and underground utilities may be at risk of being inundated by rising groundwater by the end of the 21st century due to projected rates of sea level rise for the area, according to a preliminary study released today.

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The distribution of water on, in, and above the Earth
October 31, 2017

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 of all Earth's water. Water also exists in the air as water vapor, in rivers and lakes, in icecaps and glaciers, in the ground as soil moisture and in aquifers, and even in you and your dog.

This bar chart shows how almost all of Earth's water is saline and is found in the oceans. Of the small amount that is actually freshwater, only a relatively small portion is available to sustain human, plant, and animal life.

  • In the first bar, notice how only 2.5% of Earth's water is freshwater - the amount needed for life to survive.
  • The middle bar shows the breakdown of freshwater. Almost all of it is locked up in ice and in the ground. Only a little more than 1.2% of all freshwater is surface water, which serves most of life's needs.
  • The right bar shows the breakdown of surface freshwater. Most of this water is locked up in ice, and another 20.9% is found in lakes. Rivers make up 0.49% of surface freshwater. Although rivers account for only a small amount of freshwater, this is where humans get a large portion of their water from.
Walrus Sea-Ice Habitats Melting Away
January 9, 2017

Walrus Sea-Ice Habitats Melting Away

Past and Future Impacts of Sea Level Rise on Coastal Habitats and Species
April 16, 2016

Past and Future Impacts of Sea Level Rise on Coastal Habitats and Species

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

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 research of Dr. Steven Running, University of Montana). The animation view of the Blackfoot-Jackson basin along the Continental Divide, includes Gunsight Lake in the foreground and a portion of Lake Ellen Wilson visible over Gunsight Pass. 

USGS scientists use a boat and geophysical equipment to record geological and hydrological conditions in a coastal embayment.
April 9, 2015

U. S. Geological Survey Scientists Carol Johnson, Eric White and Tim McCobb prepare to deploy geophysical equipment in a coastal embayment April 9, 2015 in Falmouth, Massachusetts. This equipment will outline the geological conditions under the water, which will give the scientists a better understanding of the geology and hydrology of the sandy glacial deposits underlying this portion of Cape Cod’s coast.

House Sized Iceberg on Lake Superior
June 3, 2014

An iceberg floating in Lake Superior, June 2014. Photographed from the R/V Kiyi.

lone road lined by palm trees on a small flat island, with water from the sea washing over the road
2014 (approx.)

Wave-driven flooding and overwash on Roi-Namur Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands

coastal road and palm trees on a small flat island, with water waves from the sea washing over the road
2014 (approx.)

Wave-driven flooding and overwash on Roi-Namur Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands

May 29, 2013

For questions about this project, please contact the speaker, John Crusius at, (206) 543-6978. The northern Gulf of Alaska (GoA) maintains a productive ecosystem, with commercially important fisheries. Virtually all of the many glaciers that line the northern GoA coast are retreating, yet the impacts on the marine ecosystem are poorly understood. This project carried out a set of frequent field observations in a network of tributaries of the Copper River, the single largest source of fresh water to the GoA (and a watershed with substantial glacial coverage). We also carried out a set of research cruises on the continental shelf and slope to the south. Iron is a nutrient that limits biological productivity in parts of the GoA, while nitrate is limiting in nearshore areas.

August 6, 2009

Most glaciers in Washington and Alaska are dramatically shrinking in response to a warming climate.

USGS scientist Edward Josberger discusses research from the past 50 years to measure changes in the mass (length and thickness) of three glaciers in Alaska and Washington. These are the longest such records in North America and among the longest in the world.

A satellite tagged Pacific walrus on a piece of sea ice
November 30, 2000

A satellite tagged Pacific walrus on a piece of sea ice

Last-interglacial sea level as determined by dated corals

Elevations of corals we have dated from last-interglacial marine deposits on tectonically stable coastlines indicate a paleo-sea level of +5 meters to +10 meters.