Is the Amount of Snow and Ice on the Earth Decreasing?

Published: 23rd November 2012 19:26Last Updated: 14th July 2016 10:43
This material is extracted from the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section of the Fourth Assessment Report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Working Group 1 (see full reference below).  

Yes. Observations show a global-scale decline of snow and ice over many years, especially since 1980 and increasing during the past decade, despite growth in some places and little change in others (Figure 1). Most mountain glaciers are getting smaller. Snow cover is retreating earlier in the spring. Sea ice  in the Arctic is shrinking in all seasons, most dramatically in summer. Reductions are reported in permafrost, seasonally frozen ground and river and lake ice. Important coastal regions of the ice sheets on Greenland and West Antarctica, and the glaciers of the Antarctic Peninsula, are thinning and contributing to sea level rise. The total contribution of glacier, ice cap and ice sheet melt to sea level rise is estimated as 1.2 ± 0.4 mm yr–1
for the period 1993 to 2003.

FAQ 4.1, Figure 1. Anomaly time series (departure from the long-term mean) of polar surface air temperature (A, G), arctic and antarctic sea ice extent (B, F), Northern Hemisphere (NH) frozen ground extent (C), NH snow cover extent (D) and global glacier mass balance (E). The solid red line in E denotes the cumulative global glacier mass balance; in the other panels it shows decadal variations.


IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment, Report of the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Further resources

For a more detailed explanation of the answer please see the original IPCC FAQ document at: