For Better or Worse Rock Glaciers will Eventually Melt Away

As global climate change continually progresses our glaciers continually recede. However, their decreasing volumes differ from one to another. You may never have heard of them, but rock glaciers (RG’s) are the more resilient, mountainous equivalent to typical glaciers. Researchers in the BEIS/Defra Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Program, conducted research regarding these glaciers and created the first ever RGDB (rock glacier database), in an effort to increase knowledge about them and awareness of the impending hydro-logic impacts they soon may have. They were able to pinpoint over 73,000 of them all over the world, many of which were located in the highest and most arid regions of the world, including the Andes and the Himalayas.

As stated earlier rock glaciers are more resilient to low lying glaciers (in regards to global warming).  RG’s are found in high elevation area’s, mainly mountain tops, all around the world. They have an active layer which melts and thaws seasonally, and are characterized as active or inactive glaciers depending on whether or not they have ice beneath it. This active layer is also what helps regulate the glaciers temperature and causes it to be more resilient to temperature changes. However, they aren’t immune. Global warming is predicted to hit higher elevation areas harder then lower lying elevations. At first this will increase flow of rivers and streams within the watershed, but it won’t last for long. As the temperature increases so will melting and eventually the long term future consequence will be the loss of these glaciers.

Glacier and Snow on Mountain
Mountain glacier and snow in New Zealand

Thankfully, the water supply that will eventually come from the melting of these ‘natural water towers’ isn’t just gonna disappear, it’ll be utilized. The meltwater will create a significant water source for arid and semi-arid systems with potential future water scarcity problems.

Apart from the database made, the researchers also estimated the water content that individual rock glaciers hold. The number came to around 83.72 Gigaton each, give or take about 16Gts. That’s a lot of water, especially if used efficiently.

Finally, whether or not individual rock glaciers melt, people in places affected by them wont see huge droughts anytime in the near future, thanks to their resilience to climate change. The only question left is, what happens when they do finally melt away?


Jones D. B, Harrison S., Anderson K., Betts R. A., February 2018. Mountain rock glaciers contain globally significant water sources. Scientific Reports v10 NO 1038: 28-34.

3 Replies to “For Better or Worse Rock Glaciers will Eventually Melt Away”

  1. Interesting article! I didn’t know much about glaciers before, but you explained them well. I wonder why global warming will hit higher elevation areas first? Also, they contain a HUGE amount of water! It was interesting that you said that the water could be used to counteract water shortages and droughts in surrounding regions.

  2. You’re right, what will happen when glaciers finally melt? We understand that water levels are rising and will continue to do so, but what type of domino effect will this have on our future?

  3. My first instinct to the head about melting glaciers was FLOOD! But even if the immense amount of water might be beneficial, what about the actual major looming question regarding the future after all the glacier has melted away? I am not an environmental expert, but that possibility just sounds daunting.

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