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.

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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 Benchmark Glacier?

“ Benchmark Glacier ” refers to four North American glaciers that have been selected for long-term glacier monitoring that investigates climate, glacier geometry, glacier mass balance, glacier motion, and stream runoff. Benchmark glaciers monitored by the USGS are: Gulkana Glacier and Wolverine Glacier in Alaska South Cascade Glacier in Washington...

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. Learn more:...

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...
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World map showing location of major ice bodies and estimated sea level rise contributed by their melting
November 30, 2000

World map showing location of major ice bodies and estimated sea level

When past sea levels were higher, where did the water come from? Here are the possibilities, with the amount of sea level rise they could provide now.

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: Layers of Ice, Hayden Glacier

Layers of Ice, Hayden Glacier

This picture was taken from the base of the Hayden Glacier in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area.

Attribution: Land Resources
A scientist hikes up to a glacier in Glacier National Park.

A scientist hikes up to a glacier in Glacier National Park.

A scientist hikes up to a glacier in Glacier National Park.