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Glacier Mass Balance Trends: Up or Down?
Braithwaite, R.J.  2002.  Glacier mass balance: the first 50 years of international monitoring.  Progress in Physical Geography 26: 76-95.

What was done
The author reviewed and analyzed mass balance measurements of 246 glaciers from around the world that were made between 1946 and 1995.

What was learned
Braithwaite's analysis reveals "there are several regions with highly negative mass balances in agreement with a public perception of 'the glaciers are melting,' but there are also regions with positive balances."  Within Europe, for example, he notes that "Alpine glaciers are generally shrinking, Scandinavian glaciers are growing, and glaciers in the Caucasus are close to equilibrium for 1980-95."  And when results for the whole world are combined for this most recent period of time, Braithwaite notes "there is no obvious common or global trend of increasing glacier melt in recent years."

What it means
"From the results of modeling," Braithwaite writes, "it seems almost certain that higher air temperatures, if they occur, will lead to increasingly negative mass balances."  In terms of a global glacier mass balance trend over the period 1980-95, however, none is apparent.  Hence, one is left to wonder whether (a) the modeling results are wrong, (b) there has been no global warming over the last two decades of the 20th century, or (c) a and b are both correct.

Reviewed 5 June 2002