Published (reviewed and quality assured)
Justification for indicator selection
Glaciers are particularly sensitive to changes in the global climate because their surface temperature is close to the freezing/melting point. When the loss of ice, mainly from melting and calving in summer, is larger than the accumulation from snowfall in winter, the mass balance of the glacier turns negative and the glacier shrinks.
Glaciers are an important freshwater resource and act as ‘water towers’ for lower-lying regions. The water from melting glaciers contributes to water flow in rivers during summer months and thus helps maintain water levels for irrigation, hydropower production, cooling water and navigation. The effects of a reduction in glaciers are, however, complex and vary from location to location. Glacier melting also contributes to global sea-level rise.
- OECD, 2007. Climate Change in the European Alps OECD publishing; Paris, France.
- UNEP, 2008. Meltdown in the Mountains UNEP Zürich/ Nairobi.
- IPCC, 2013: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 1535 pp.
- Cumulative specific net mass balance of European glaciers
- Projected changes in the volume of all mountain glaciers and ice caps in the European glaciated regions
- Mass balance (m water equivalent)
- Volume (km³)
Policy context and targets
In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package (http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/adaptation/what/documentation_en.htm). This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change /* COM/2013/0216 final */ and a number of supporting documents. One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which should occur through Bridging the knowledge gap and Further developing Climate-ADAPT as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Further objectives include Promoting action by Member States and Climate-proofing EU action: promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors. Many EU Member States have already taken action, such as by adopting national adaptation strategies, and several have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation.
The European Commission and the European Environment Agency have developed the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT, http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/) to share knowledge on observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health; on relevant research; on EU, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans; and on adaptation case studies.
No targets have been specified.
Related policy documents
Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later. This webportal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
EU Adaptation Strategy Package
In April 2013 the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it will enhance the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
Methodology for indicator calculation
Various methods are used to estimate mass balances. A literature overview can be found under http://www.wgms.ch/literature.html .
Projections of volume changes are based on melt in response to transient, spatially differentiated twenty-first century projections of temperature and precipitation from ten global climate models.
Methodology for gap filling
- Radić & Hock (2011): Regionally differentiated contribution of mountain glaciers and ice caps to future sea-level rise Nature Geoscience 4 , 91–94 doi:10.1038/ngeo1052
EEA data references
- No datasets have been specified here.
Data sources in latest figures
Data sets uncertainty
Data on the cryosphere vary significantly with regard to availability and quality. Snow and ice cover have been monitored globally since satellite measurements started in the 1970s. Improvements in technology allow for more detailed observations and higher resolution.
Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/climate-impacts-and-vulnerability-2012/)
No uncertainty has been specified
Short term work
Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.
Long term work
Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.
Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoHans-Martin Füssel
Frequency of updates
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe's environment.
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