The PTAA Glacier Mass Balance Project

There are approximately 198,000 glaciers in the world, each one unique, from infinite variations in location, orientation, altitude, exposure, and even the political climate in which they exist.

Although we tend to think of glaciers as imperturbable behemoths, relentlessly grinding mountains to rubble on a geologic time scale, seemingly irrelevant to our daily lives, they are in fact constantly changing.  As is often heard in the news these days, it now appears they may be melting away at an unprecedented rate.


Glaciers and a large proportion of Earth's human population have co-existed for at least the last 50,000 years.  Both have endured climate extremes and as entities have survived.

What is happening to glaciers?

Over the past 3-5 decades, many of the world's large glaciers have thinned over one meter a year.  A number of small glaciers have disappeared entirely.  The runoff from these glaciers is raising the sea level at a record rate and altering the timing of the essential, seasonal  water supplies of nearly two billion people.

Why is this happening?

The cause of the alarming shrinkage and disappearance of our earth's glaciers is undoubtedly the recent increase in global temperatures.  All credible climate scientists are emphatic that the cause of the temperature increase is atmospheric carbon dioxide http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/indicators/.

Over the last 800,000 years, natural factors have caused variations in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration within a range of about 170 to 300 parts per million (ppm). Since the start of the industrial revolution, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by roughly 35%.

Globally, over the past several decades, about 80% of human-induced CO2 emissions came from burning fossil fuels and about 20% resulted from deforestation and associated agricultural practices.

In the absence of strong control measures, emissions projected for this century would result in the CO2 concentration increasing to a level that is roughly 2 to 3 times the highest level occurring over the glacial-interglacial era that spans the last 800,000 or more years.

What can we do?

Regardless on which side of the debate you stand, one thing is a fact.  Glaciers are a prime indicator of the extent and direction of variations in climate.  Measuring and monitoring glacier change can help us understand not only what is happening to glaciers, but find correlations to past and present events that will help us understand our future.

In order to deliver such insights, a statistically significant sample of monitored glaciers is needed.  One major problem though is that glaciers tend to be located in remote, inaccessible areas and therefore measuring their mass balance is extremely expensive and labor intensive.  Due to this, in the past, only a small percentage of glaciers world-wide have been monitored.  However, there is a way to extrapolate glacier change from readily available low-altitude weather observations. 

Wendell Tangborn, of Hymet, Inc., has developed and successfully used for many years a computer-model approach to produce highly accurate snowmelt forecasts and glacier mass balance reports.  Streamflow forecasts are used by hydro-electric companies to maximize energy generation at dams.  Using this technology, with the participation of scientists around the world, we can have accurate and timely monitoring of a statistically significant sample of world glaciers.

What is the PTAA-GMB Project?

PTAAGMB stands for Precipitation - Temperature - Area - Altitude - Glacier Mass Balance.  PTAA are the data used to accurately calculate glacier mass balance without manual measurements.

The PTAAGMB Project seeks to establish a worldwide glacier monitoring system that will track daily mass balance changes in each of 200 glaciers using the glacier mass balance model.

We are looking for qualified scientists and researchers to help collect and process the information required to produce these monitoring results and to be involved with the exploration and interpretation of the accumulated data.  This should be an exciting and revealing project with many fascinating new avenues unfolding as we begin to compare glacier monitoring results on a global scale.

If you are interested in participating as part of this global network, please contact us via the 'Contact' on this site.

Glacier List

Initially, the PTAAGMB Project will study the following glaciers.  Please feel free to click around and find glaciers of interest to you.  Thanks to Google Maps, we have been able to include revealing satellite images of them all.

Glaciers listed with an asterisk have current manual monitoring, which will help establish the accuracy of the glacier mass balance model.

Glaciers with a '+' have already had glacier mass balance reports created.

You can access the glaciers here in several ways. Try clicking on the 'Glacier List' menu item above, on any of the continent, country, region or individual glaciers listed in the right side bar, or any of the glaciers listed alphabetically below.  We will be enabling the ability to click on any map icon to get additional information about a glacier and to access a link directly to its page.

You can of course use any of the Google Maps functionality with which you are already familiar.