September 8, 2016

World Glacier Monitoring Service 30th Anniversary

Posted by Mauri Pelto


The numbers on the left y-axis depict quantities of glacial mass loss from the WGMS and sea level rise, and the suns across the horizon contain numbers that represent the global increase in temperature, coinciding with the timeline on the lower x-axis From Jill Pelto

The World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) celebrated 30 years of achievement last week. I have had the privilege of being the United States representative to the WGMS and was an invited speaker for the Jubilee held in Zurich, Switzerland along with Matthias Huss, Wilfried Haeberli, Liss Marie Andreassen and Irene Kopelman. This post examines the important role that WGMS has and continues to serve under the leadership of Michael Zemp. The organization has been compiling, homogenizing and publishing data on glacier fluctuations and mass balance primarily from 1986-2013. WGMS remains the leading organization for the collection, storage and dissemination of information on the fluctuations of alpine glaciers. The resulting standardized collection of alpine glacier data that is archived by WGMS, is also leading to analysis efforts that otherwise would be hampered by limited data and lack of homogeneity to the data. Glaciers are recognized as one of the best climate indicators.  Mass balance data is the best parameter to measure on glaciers for identifying climate change, because of its annual resolution. The core of the WGMS data set has been frontal variations, which indicate longer response to climate as well as dynamic changes.  The key data set today provided by WGMS are the reference glaciers.

This set of glaciers has a 30-year continuous record of annual mass balance measured in the field, and each glacier also has geodetic verification.  This mass balance data set is featured on the Global Climate Dashboard at NOAA. I report the mass balance of two reference glaciers Lemon Creek Glacier in Alaska and Columbia Glacier in Washington.  Today the field based work is being increasingly supplemented and supplanted by remote sensing methods.  This data sets indicates a period of sustained mass balance loss, and glacier retreat that Zemp et al (2015) using WGMS data noted as historically unprecedented.  The most recent compilation publication is the Global Glacier Change Bulletin.

This data set is of particular value during this period of climate change and is already chronicling the disapperance of a number of glaciers in the data set. Glacier loss is not a process that has been well documented. The WGMS data set can be enriched by more data from expanding monitoring, reporting data from archives and simply adding the submission of data as a step in the research process for those monitoring alpine glaciers. The video of my presentation looking at 33 consecutive years of field work and sharing this data after compilation with the WGMS is below. The slides below are from the Jubilee presentations.


Distribution of reporting-Source Michael Zemp glaciers

Distribution of reporting-Source Michael Zemp glaciers
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