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Understanding Glacier Melt : UNEP and WGMS report highlights global trends on glaciers and ice caps

Nairobi, 21 January 2010 - The last assessment on glacier melt by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) shows that the average annual melting rate of glaciers doubled after the turn of the millennium.

The report, 'Global Glacier Changes: Facts and Figures', was published by UNEP and WGMS in September 2008. It highlights global trends in glacier retreat and shows that record losses were posted in 2006 for a key network of reference sites.

The previous record loss in the year 1998 was already exceeded three times in the years 2003, 2004 and 2006, with the losses in 2004 and 2006 being almost twice as high as the previous 1998 record loss.

The global average annual mass loss of more than half a metre during the decade of 1996 to 2005 represents twice the ice loss of the previous decade (1986-95), and over four times the rate of the decade from 1976 to 1985. Early measurements indicate strong ice losses as early as the 1940s and 1950s, followed by a moderate ice loss between 1966 and 1985, and accelerating ice losses until present.

Overall, the 2008 report provided mounting evidence that climate change is triggering a shrinking and thinning of many glaciers worldwide, which may eventually put at risk water supplies for hundreds of millions of people.

When the report was released in 2008, UNEP and WGMS emphasized that data gaps exist in some vulnerable parts of the globe, undermining the ability to provide precise early warning for countries and populations at risk.

The two organizations said that while excellent data was available for large parts of the world including Europe and North America, the monitoring of glaciers and ice caps in Central Asia, the Tropics and the Polar Regions needed to be urgently stepped up.

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Further Resources

Global Glacier Changes: Full Report

Global Glacier Changes: Facts and Figures

Time to Plug Gaps in the Global Glacier Monitoring Network


World Glacier Monitioring Service (WGMS)


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