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).

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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...

How many glaciers currently exist in Alaska?

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...

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...

Is glacier ice a type of rock?

Yes – glacier ice, like granite, 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). It forms through the metamorphism of tens of thousands of individual snowflakes into crystals of...

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...

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...

How does present glacier extent and sea level compare to the extent of glaciers and global sea level during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM)?

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...

How do we know glaciers are shrinking?

In addition to qualitative methods like Repeat Photography , USGS scientists collect quantitative measurements of glacier area and mass balance to track how some glaciers are retreating ( Glacier Monitoring Studies ). For example, ablation stakes show the seasonal gain and loss of snow, snow-pit analyses measure density of snow, and precision GPS...

Is there a size criterion for a glacier?

While there is no global standard for what size a body of ice must be to be considered a glacier, USGS scientists in Glacier National Park use the commonly accepted guideline of 0.1 square kilometers (about 25 acres) as the minimum size of a glacier. Below this size, ice is generally stagnant and does not have enough mass to move.
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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 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 of all Earth's water. Water

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Walrus Sea-Ice Habitats Melting Away
January 9, 2017

Walrus Sea-Ice Habitats Melting Away

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

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

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

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September 24, 2015

PubTalk 9/2015 — Coral Reefs, Climate Change, and Atoll Sustainability

Will Micronesians become the U.S.'s first climate change refugees?

by Curt Storlazzi, USGS Research Geologist and Oceanographer

  • Sea level is rising, threatening low-lying atoll islands throughout the western Pacific Ocean
  • Climate change is degrading the coral reefs that atoll islands have developed upon, decreasing
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USGS scientists use a boat and geophysical equipment to record geological and hydrological conditions in a coastal embayment.
April 9, 2015

Cape Cod Sea Level Rise

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

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Iceberg on Lake Superior
June 3, 2014

Iceberg on Lake Superior

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

coastal road and palm trees on a small flat island, with water waves from the sea washing over the road
March 31, 2014

Wave-driven flooding and overwash on Roi-Namur Atoll

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

lone road lined by palm trees on a small flat island, with water from the sea washing over the road
March 31, 2014

Wave-driven flooding and overwash on Roi-Namur Atoll

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

May 29, 2013

Impacts of Melting Glaciers on Gulf of Alaska

For questions about this project, please contact the speaker, John Crusius at jcrusius@usgs.gov, (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

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USGS
August 6, 2009

The Cold Facts About Melting Glaciers

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.

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Marine terrace San Clemente Island, California
April 23, 2006

Seal Levels and Climate

San Clemente Island, California: "Stair-step" landscape of uplifted marine terraces on western San Clemente Island. The lowest terrace, where the road near the shore is visible, has been dated to 120,000 years by U-series analysis of corals (Muhs and others, 2002).

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