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5.3: Distribution of Glaciers

  • Page ID
    13488
  • The total area of the Earth’s surface covered by glaciers is 14.9 million km2

    • Antarctic ice sheet: 12.5 million km2
    • Greenland ice sheet: 1.7 million km2
    • All the rest: 700,000 km2 (many ice caps, mostly less than about 10,000 km2; many thousands of small glaciers, mostly valley glaciers)

    Aside from the Greenland ice sheet, most of the larger glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere are mostly on Iceland and the Arctic Islands of Canada, because of the distribution of land and sea.

    It’s a lot more difficult to get the volumes of ice in glaciers than to get the areas covered by glaciers. Things have gotten better in this respect, though, because of use of echo sounding, similar to oceanographic depth sounding. But one still has to go out there to the glacier to do it.

    • Antarctica: 21.5 million km3 (sea-level equivalent about 60 m) Greenland: 2.4 million km3 (sea-level equivalent about 5 m)
    • All other: 180,000 km3 (largest ice cap: Vatnajökull, Iceland, 3100 km3, and fairly accessible).