Accelerating glacier volume loss on Juneau Icefield driven by hypsometry and melt-accelerating feedbacks

Bethan Davies, Robert McNabb, Jacob Bendle, Jonathan Carrivick, Jeremy Ely, Tom Holt, Bradley Markle, Christopher McNeil, Lindsey Nicholson, Mauri Pelto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Globally, glaciers and icefields contribute significantly to sea level rise. Here we show that ice loss from Juneau Icefield, a plateau icefield in Alaska, accelerated after 2005 AD. Rates of area shrinkage were 5 times faster from 2015–2019 than from 1979–1990. Glacier volume loss remained fairly consistent (0.65–1.01 km3 a−1) from 1770–1979 AD, rising to 3.08–3.72 km3 a−1 from 1979–2010, and then doubling after 2010 AD, reaching 5.91 ± 0.80 km3 a−1 (2010–2020). Thinning has become pervasive across the icefield plateau since 2005, accompanied by glacier recession and fragmentation. Rising equilibrium line altitudes and increasing ablation across the plateau has driven a series of hypsometrically controlled melt-accelerating feedbacks and resulted in the observed acceleration in mass loss. As glacier thinning on the plateau continues, a mass balance-elevation feedback is likely to inhibit future glacier regrowth, potentially pushing glaciers beyond a dynamic tipping point.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5099
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2 Jul 2024

Bibliographical note

© 2024. The Author(s).

Data Access Statement

B.D. and R.M. conceived and designed the study. B.D. mapped the glacial geomorphology, snowlines and other glacial features. B.D. and J.B. compiled satellite data and mapped glacier extents. J.B. compiled ERA5 reanalysis datasets. R.M. supported methodological development and processed aerial photography and satellite imagery to derive glacier volume changes, and calculated albedo. J.C. reconstructed ice surface at the LIA. B.D. visualised and analysed the data. C.M. supported methods development and analysed and validated the data. . B.D. and L.N. undertook fieldwork to ground-truth geomorphological mapping. M.P. validated ELA measurements and historic ELA observations. T.H. supported data analysis.


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