B3: Cryosphere (observations)

Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence) (see Figure SPM.3 below). {4.2–4.7}


  • The average rate of ice loss8   from glaciers around the world, excluding glaciers on the periphery  of  the  ice  sheets,  was  very  likely  226  [91  to  361]  Gt  yr−1   over  the  period 1971−2009, and very likely 275 [140 to 410] Gt yr−1 over the period 1993−200910. {4.3}


  • The average rate of ice loss from the Greenland ice sheet has very likely substantially increased from 34 [–6 to 74] Gt yr–1  over the period 1992–2001 to 215 [157 to 274] Gt yr–1 over the period 2002–2011. {4.4}


  • The average rate of ice loss from the Antarctic ice sheet has likely increased from 30 [–37 to 97] Gt yr–1 over the period 1992–2001 to 147 [72 to 221] Gt yr–1 over the period 2002–2011. There is very high confidence that these losses are mainly from the northern Antarctic Peninsula and the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica. {4.4}


Multiple observed indicators of a changing global climate: (a) Extent of Northern Hemisphere March-April (spring) average snow cover, (b) Extent of Arctic July-August-September (summer) average sea ice, (c) change in global mean upper ocean (0–700 m) heat content aligned to 2006−2010, and relative to the mean of all datasets for 1971, (d) global mean sea level relative to the 1900–1905 mean of the longest running dataset, and with all datasets aligned to have the same value in 1993, the first year of satellite altimetry data. All time-series (coloured lines indicating different data sets) show annual values, and where assessed, uncertainties are indicated by coloured shading. See Technical Summary Supplementary Material for a listing of the datasets. {Figures 3.2, 3.13, 4.19, and 4.3; FAQ 2.1, Figure 2; Figure TS.1}


  • The annual mean Arctic sea ice extent decreased over the period 1979–2012 with a rate that was very likely in the range 3.5 to 4.1% per decade (range of 0.45 to 0.51 million km2  per decade), and very likely in the range 9.4 to 13.6% per decade (range of 0.73 to 1.07 million km2 per decade) for the summer sea ice minimum (perennial sea ice). The average decrease in decadal mean extent of Arctic sea ice has been most rapid in summer (high confidence); the spatial extent has decreased in every season, and in every successive decade since 1979 (high confidence) (see Figure SPM.3). There is medium confidence from reconstructions that over the past three decades, Arctic summer sea ice retreat was unprecedented and sea surface temperatures were anomalously high in at least the last 1,450 years. {4.2, 5.5}


  • It is very likely that the annual mean Antarctic sea ice extent increased at a rate in the range of 1.2 to 1.8% per decade (range of 0.13 to 0.20 million km2 per decade) between 1979 and 2012. There is high confidence that there are strong regional differences in this annual rate, with extent increasing in some regions and decreasing in others. {4.2}


  • There is  very high confidence that the  extent  of  Northern Hemisphere snow cover has decreased since the mid-20th century (see Figure SPM.3). Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent decreased 1.6 [0.8 to 2.4] % per decade for March and April, and 11.7 [8.8 to 14.6] % per decade for June, over the 1967–2012 period. During this period, snow cover extent in the Northern Hemisphere did not show a statistically significant increase in any month. {4.5}


  • There is high confidence that permafrost temperatures have increased in most regions since the early 1980s. Observed warming was up to 3°C in parts of Northern Alaska (early 1980s to mid-2000s) and up to 2°C in parts of the Russian European North (1971–2010). In the latter region, a considerable reduction in permafrost thickness and areal extent has been observed over the period 1975–2005 (medium confidence). {4.7}


  • Multiple lines of evidence support very substantial Arctic warming since the mid-20th century. {Box 5.1, 10.3}


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