Rapid worldwide growth of glacial lakes since 1990
Glacial lakes are rapidly growing in response to climate change and glacier retreat. The role of these lakes as terrestrial storage for glacial meltwater is currently unknown and not accounted for in global sea level assessments. Here, we map glacier lakes around the world using 254,795 satellite images and use scaling relations to estimate that global glacier lake volume increased by around 48%, to 156.5 km3, between 1990 and 2018. This methodology provides a near-global database and analysis of glacial lake extent, volume and change. Over the study period, lake numbers and total area increased by 53 and 51%, respectively. Median lake size has increased 3%; however, the 95th percentile has increased by around 9%. Currently, glacial lakes hold about 0.43 mm of sea level equivalent. As glaciers continue to retreat and feed glacial lakes, the implications for glacial lake outburst floods and water resources are of considerable societal and ecological importance.
Nature Climate Change
Open Access Status
Shugar, D. H., Burr, A., Haritashya, U. K., Kargel, J. S., Watson, C. S., Kennedy, M. C., Bevington, A. R., Betts, R. A., Harrison, S., & Strattman, K. (2020). Rapid worldwide growth of glacial lakes since 1990. Nature Climate Change, 10(10), 939–945. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0855-4