40 distressing photos show glaciers disappearing around the world

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In this aerial image, retreated Columbia Glacier is seen on June 24, 2017 in Valdez, Alaska. The tidal glacier retreated 18 miles in 30 years. The Asahi Shimbun via Getty
  • Glaciers are slow-moving rivers of ice that usually grow in winter and shrink in summer.
  • But with global temperatures rising, many glaciers are losing more ice than they’re gaining, meaning the world’s glaciers are shrinking.
  • Philippus Wester, a chief scientist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, called it “the climate crisis you haven’t heard of.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

It’s no longer unimaginable to have a world without glaciers.

In September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report that said around the world, glaciers are losing hundreds of billions of tons of ice every year.

The report’s scientists said if humans don’t get carbon emissions under control, glaciers would continue to decline, causing “landslides, avalanches, rockfalls, and floods.”

Another report found that a third of the icecaps in the Himalayas, which run from Afghanistan to Myanmar, were doomed.

The report’s leader, scientist Philippus Wester, called it “the climate crisis you haven’t heard of.”

These 40 photos show glaciers that are disappearing or on the brink of collapse around the world.


The last remnants of the ice age, glaciers are huge masses of ice that move over land. There are two types: The first is alpine glaciers, which are found on mountains in every continent, except Australia, and the second is ice sheets, which cover places like Greenland and Antarctica.

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The Italia Glacier from the Beagle Channel, Chilean Fjords, Chile. Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty

Sources: National Geographic, NOAA


According to Antarctic Glaciers, a group that explains glacier science, about 198,000 glaciers cover 450,000 square miles across the globe. Glacial ice covers 10% of the land area on Earth.

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Global distribution of glaciers. The size of the circle shows how much the ice covers, and the blue in some circles shows what’s covered by tidewater. Antarctic Glaciers

Sources: Antarctic Glaciers, National Snow and Ice Data Centre


Glaciers form from snow falling and piling up. If it doesn’t melt, but instead compresses until it becomes hard and granular. This hardened snow is called “firn.” As more and more snow falls, it gets even more compact. After years of snowfall, when it gets to about 160 feet, the firn fuses and becomes a block of ice.

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A glacier is seen in the Kenai Mountains on September 06, 2019 near Primrose, Alaska. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey have been studying the glaciers in the area since 1966 and their studies show that the warming climate has resulted in sustained glacial mass loss as melting outpaced the accumulation of new snow and ice. ( Joe Raedle/Getty

Source: National Geographic


At this point, the glacier can begin to move, helped along by meltwater underneath. But the whole mass doesn’t slide at a uniform speed, causing cracks known as crevasses.

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Men crossing a crevasses on the glacier plateau overlooking Prospect point, Antarctica. DeAgostini/Getty

Source: National Geographic


Scientists began monitoring glaciers over 100 years ago, and formed the International Commission of Snow and Ice in 1894. While scientists have inventoried more than 100,000 glaciers, they have only been studying about 40 of them long enough to do climate change studies.

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Caitlyn Florentine, from the Rocky Mountain Science Centre, Daniel Otto Physical Scientist Technician with the with the United States Geological Survey, and Louis Sass, Physical Scientist with the United States Geological Survey, take core samples on the Wolverine Glacier on September 06, 2019 near Primrose, Alaska. Joe Raedle/Getty

Sources: NOAA, NSIDC


Mauri Pelto, a glaciologist and the US representative for world glacier monitoring, has been studying glaciers for 36 years. He told Business Insider a lot has changed in that time — 20 years ago it was barely a news topic. But melting has accelerated.

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Mauri Pelto, a glaciologist who directs the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project, stands on Sholes Glacier in Mount Baker, Wash on August 7, 2015. Even in one of the snowiest regions in the U.S., glaciers are retreating. Manuel Valdes / AP

Glaciers made international headlines in September 2019, when a 250,000-cubic-metre chunk of ice from Planpincieux Glacier on Mont Blanc threatened the Italian town of Courmeyeur at its base.

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A segment of the Planpincieux Glacier is seen on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc massif area. Yara Nardi / Reuters

Source: The Guardian, The Independent


The glacier is 512 square miles. While no homes, or people, were in danger, the local mayor was forced to close a road. If it had collapsed, it would have hit the valley in 80 seconds.

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A segment of the Planpincieux Glacier is seen on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc massif area. Yara Nardi / Reuters

Sources: The Guardian, The Independent


Italian leader Giuseppe Conte said the rapidly melting glacier was “an alarm” that could no longer be ignored. It helped that the glacier’s threat was publicized during the UN general assembly in New York.

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Italy’s Prime Minister-designate Giuseppe Conte talks to the media. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Source: CBS News


According to World Heritage, glaciers are more than passive climate indicators. They’re an essential part of ecosystems, and play a role in the global climate and sea levels.

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In this aerial view UV-resistant material covers a portion of the Rhone Glacier at right in order to slow the glacier’s melting next to a lake created by the glacier’s melt water on August 19, 2019 near Obergoms, Switzerland. Sean Gallup / Getty

Source: World Heritage Glaciers


And it’s pretty clear that they’re melting. An Environmental Protection Agency graph shows the trend of glacier mass between 1945 and 2015.

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EPA glacier graph. EPA

Pelto said the easiest way to explain whether a glacier had a future was to see if it had any “income.” If a glacier doesn’t retain any snow on top of it at the end of the summer, it will disappear. “You don’t look at how fast it’s retreating, you ask, ‘did it retain any snowpack’,” he said.

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An aerial view shows a massive collage of 125,000 drawings and messages from children around the world about climate change seen rolled out on the Aletsch Glacier at an altitude of 3,400 metres near the Jungfraujoch in the Swiss Alps smashing the world record for giant postcards, on November 16, 2018. Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty

He told Business Insider, “I’ve watched five glaciers that I visited annually disappear, and that’s not even the most alarming thing.” It was the number of new alpine lakes that he found to be the most concerning.

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Visitors look towards the retreating Pasterze Glacier behind a lake in a basin the glacier once filled with ice that in 1963 was still approximately 100 meters deep on August 14, 2019 near Heiligenblut am Grossglockner, Austria. Sean Gallup / Getty

According to USGC scientist Caitlyn Florentine, who studies glaciers in North America, the first glaciers to go will be the small ones at low elevations, or in regions where snowfall becomes rain in the near future, due to a warming climate.

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Safari Endeavour cruise passengers in an inflatable boat in front of South Sawyer Glacier calves into the Endicott Arm fjord of Tracy Arm in Fords Terror Wilderness, Southeast, Alaska. Sergi Reboredo/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty

Florentine said one of the best ways to understand the vulnerability of disappearing glaciers is to look at the effects of their melting. There are three main prongs — the ecological consequences, the increase in global sea levels, and the impact on water resources.

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Meltwater pours from a fissure at the side of the Aletsch Glacier on August 22, 2019 near Bettmeralp, Switzerland. Sean Gallup / Getty

An ecological consequence, for example, could be the effect glacial melt could have on salmon populations. Here, fisherman in Alaska try to catch silver salmon with the Knik glacier out in front of them.

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A group of fishermen gather along the Knik River near Palmer, Alaska, Tuesday, July 29, 2003, with the Knik Glacier in the background to try their skill at catching one of the silver salmon swimming up to Jim Creek. Al Grillo / AP

Glacial melt could impact salmon populations, because salmon breed in certain temperatures. If glaciers have melted, there will be no more icy water, resulting in streams getting warmer, which could harm their breeding patterns.

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Joseph John Jr. washes freshly caught salmon with his son, Jeremiah John, while waiting for the tide to come in on July 1, 2015 in Newtok, Alaska. Andrew Burton / Getty

Source: The New York Times


As glaciers melt, sea levels rise. A study published in Nature in April found that glacier melt is already responsible for 30% of sea level rise. West Antarctica has some of the most threatening glaciers for rising sea levels.

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Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica. Note the crack. REUTERS/NASA/GSFC/Jefferson Beck/Handout

Source: Quartz


One particularly large glacier called Pine Island Glacier made headlines in 2017, when it lost a chunk of ice four times the size of Manhattan. Scientists estimate that if it melts, global seas could rise by 1.7 feet.

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NASA scientists discovered a massive crack across the Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica. November 13, 2011. Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group / Getty

Sources: Business Insider, Washington Post


In February, a hole 6 miles long and 1,000 feet deep was discovered under Thwaites Glacier, another large Antarctic glacier, which is the same size as Florida. The hole is the equivalent to losing about 14 billion tons of ice, and showed that the glacier was being hollowed out by water, as well as shrinking.

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Thwaites Glacier. NASA

Sources: Business Insider, NBC News


It’s also receding by 2,625 feet every year. Scientists estimate Thwaites could collapse within the next 100 years. When it does, sea levels around the world could rise by two feet.

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A close look at the Thwaites Ice Shelf edge. James Yungel/NASA via Wikimedia Commons

Sources: Business Insider, NBC News


Florentine said the melting could have repercussions on the land and rivers below the Himalayas, for example, where communities rely on glaciers’ annual melt for crops and drinking water.

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A picture taken on July 9, 2011 shows partially flooded road number 1 near Vik after a massive flood of melt water poured out of Iceland’s Myrdalsjoekull Glacier. Halldor Kolbeins / AFP / Getty

In early 2019, The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment, which 200 scientists worked on for five years, found that a third of Himalaya’s glaciers, also known as “the third pole,” were doomed, regardless of what was done to stop climate change.

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A glacier in the Everest region 87 miles northeast of Kathmandu. Prakash Mathema / AFP / Getty

Sources: The Guardian, The Diplomat, The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment


If emissions aren’t cut, the report said two-thirds of the Himalayan glaciers could be lost. It’s an important area, since it holds the third-most ice in the world after Antarctica and the Arctic.

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The Khumbu Glacier, which lies at the foot of Mount Everest, has in the last decade begun to develop ponds of water on its surface, which scientists say could develop into a much larger lake on the glacier’s surface if warming trends continue. Ed Giles / Getty

Source: The Guardian


These glaciers provide water for 250 million people who live near the mountains. Further out, another billion people rely on the rivers that flow from these mountains. When the report was released, Philippus Wester, the report’s leader, called it “the climate crisis you haven’t heard of.”

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A general view of the Chiatibo Glacier in the Hindu Kush mountain range on October 16, 2019 in the Chitral District of Khyber-Pakhunkwa Province, Pakistan. Pool /Samir Hussein/WireImage / Getty

Source: The Guardian


The report said that after an initial melt and increase in water flow, possibly leading to high-altitude lakes bursting, water supplies would dry up. Communities that relied on power from hydro-dams, or farmers who relied on water for crops, would suffer. It will be especially difficult as glaciers melt in the summer when water is in the highest demand.

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September 28, 2015, a general view of Passu Glacier is seen in Pakistan’s Gojal Valley. Karachi, 2050: Aamir Gureshi / AFP / Getty

Source: The Guardian


It’s not just glaciers in Antarctica and the Himalayas that are in danger of disappearing. A study published in Nature in April looked at 19,000 glaciers and concluded almost all of them were melting. The glaciers shrinking the fastest were in the US, Western Canada, central Europe, New Zealand, and the Caucasus region.

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Franz Joseph Glacier in New Zealand. Education Images / Universal Images Group / Getty

Source: Quartz


In Europe, Austria’s glaciers might not be around much longer. According to scientist Andrea Fischer, who conducts Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change research, Austria’s glaciers have been disappearing faster than most.

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Visitors walk past collapsing, melting ice at the foot of the Pasterze Glacier on August 27, 2016 near Heiligenblut am Grossglockner, Austria. Sean Gallup / Getty

Source: Yahoo News


Pasterze Glacier, the country’s largest, has been thinning by about 3 feet every year. Glaciologist Anton Neureiter told DW he didn’t even need his equipment to notice the melt.

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A guide leads visitors on the surface of the retreating Pasterze Glacier on August 14, 2019. Sean Gallup / Getty

Source: DW


“It’s so tangible. You can see the changes from year to year, even month to month, every time you visit the glacier,” Neureiter told DW. “This glacier is dying. It’s falling apart.”

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The retreating Pasterze Glacier is seen in a basin shorn smooth by the glacier’s ice on August 13, 2019. Sean Gallup/Getty

Source: DW


Greenland’s Helheim Glacier, named after Norse mythology’s realm of the dead, is as tall as the Statue of Liberty. It’s losing tens of meters of ice every day. In 2017, the glacier lost two miles of ice.

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A large crevasse forms near the calving front of the Helheim Glacier near Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 22, 2018. Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Source: CNN


But it’s still so large, the AP’s Seth Borenstein wrote, that the only way to get any idea of its scale is by seeing a helicopter dwarfed by the icy landscape.

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A helicopter carrying New York University air and ocean scientist David Holland and his team sits on the ice as they install a radar and GPS at the Helheim Glacier, in Greenland in 2019. Felipe Dana / AP

Source: Los Angeles Times


In Greenland, Eqip Sermia Glacier loses ice from calving every year, which is not unusual, but it’s also retreated nearly 2 miles over the last century.

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Ice breaking off from the 200 metre tall face of the Eqip Sermia Glacier crashes into the water below during unseasonably warm weather on July 31, 2019. Sean Gallup / Getty

Source: The Atlantic


In Kazakhstan, above the city of Almaty, the Tuyuksu Glacier, which is about 1.5 miles long, is “melting like mad”, The New York Times reported in January 2019. It’s lost over half a mile, or a third of itself, in 60 years.

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Tuyuk Su Glacier. Roustem Nurmambetov / Youtube

Source: The New York Times


In China, the Laohugou Glacier had all of its tourism facilities removed in 2017, because it had sunk by 1,300 feet in the last 60 years.

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Photo taken on Nov. 30, 2017 shows the Laohugou Glacier No. 12 on Qilian Mountains in northwest China’s Gansu Province. Xinhua / Chen Bin / Getty

Source: Xinhua Net


Elsewhere in China, scientists say the Baishui Glacier, on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, is one of the fastest melting glaciers in the world, due to climate change and the mountain’s location near the equator. It’s lost 60% of its mass and shrunk by 820 feet since 1982.

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Researchers measuring with iron bars the annual retreat of the Baishui Glacier No.1 on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the southern province of Yunnan in China. Sam McNeil / AP

Source: The Japan Times


In Canada, massive glaciers on the Saint Elias mountains, which go across Yukon, Alaska, and British Columbia, are losing ice faster than anywhere else in the country. Between 1957 and 2007, the range lost 22% of its ice.

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Admiring the views of Hubbard Glacier in Yukon, Canada. Matthew Bailey / VWPics / Universal Images Group / Getty

Source: The Guardian


If things continue the way they’re going, smaller glaciers in warmer locations will struggle to make it to the end of the century, Pelto told Business Insider. “The actual science is depressing. The results do get to you emotionally.”

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Hubbard Glacier, Disenchantment Bay, AK, Alaska, United States. MyLoupe / Universal Images Group / Getty

But he also said the problem was getting a lot more attention. “If you look back to the 1980s, you could tell the names of every scientist, but now there are so many. And that’s been uplifting, training the next generation of scientists.”

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Surprise Glacier, photographed by scientists on a trip to Alaska to perform glacial melt and other climate-related research. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty

Pelto said he still had hope. “Glaciers are bigger than people think, and they’re really slow to get rid of.”

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A tour boat is seen dwarfed by a glacier in the Kenai Mountains on September 06, 2019 near Primrose, Alaska. Joe Raedle / Getty