Glacier shrinkage driving global changes in downstream systems

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Tom J. Battin
  • John E. Brittain
  • Leopold Füreder
  • Sophie Cauvy-Fraunié
  • Gísli Már Gíslason
  • Dean Jacobsen
  • Andrew J. Hodson
  • Eran Hood
  • Valeria Lencioni
  • Jón S. Ólafsson
  • Christopher T. Robinson
  • Martyn Tranter
  • Lee E. Brown

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Institute of Arctic Biology
  • University of Fairbanks; Institute of Arctic Biology; Fairbanks Alaska 99611 USA
  • Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces, Department de Chimie, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.
  • University of Oslo
  • University of Innsbruck
  • Écologie et Pollutions - Lyon
  • University of Iceland
  • Freshwater Biological Laboratory
  • Sheffield University
  • University of Alaska Southeast
  • MUSE-Museo delle Scienze
  • Marine and Freshwater Research Institute
  • Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Leeds


Glaciers cover ~10% of the Earth’s land surface, but they are shrinking rapidly across most parts of the world, leading to cascading impacts on downstream systems. Glaciers impart unique footprints on river flow at times when other water sources are low. Changes in river hydrology and morphology caused by climate-induced glacier loss are projected to be the greatest of any hydrological system, with major implications for riverine and near-shore marine environments. Here, we synthesize current evidence of how glacier shrinkage will alter hydrological regimes, sediment transport, and biogeochemical and contaminant fluxes from rivers to oceans. This will profoundly influence the natural environment, including many facets of biodiversity, and the ecosystem services that glacier-fed rivers provide to humans, particularly provision of water for agriculture, hydropower, and consumption. We conclude that human society must plan adaptation and mitigation measures for the full breadth of impacts in all affected regions caused by glacier shrinkage.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9770-9778
Number of pages9
JournalNational Academy of Sciences. Proceedings
Issue number37
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sep 2017


  • Biodiversity, Biogeochemistry, Ecosystem services, Glacier, Runoff