An inventory of the surface area and volume of the world’s glaciers, outside Greenland and Antarctica, was part of the International Hydrological Decade (1965–74). It was considered essential to an understanding of the role played by glaciers in the hydrological cycle and was to be repeated every 50 years to detect change. To date, 46% of the estimated total glacier area has been inventoried and made available through the World Glacier Monitoring Service and the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. As the original inventory method was too time-consuming and inapplicable for some areas, a simplified method was developed in the early 1980s using satellite images. The Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS) project now covers 34% of the estimated glacierized area outside Greenland and Antarctica. Both inventory efforts have made good progress and contributed substantially to our knowledge of glaciology and its related sciences, but global coverage is still incomplete. If both inventories are combined, 46% of the world’s glacierized area is still missing; 26% is covered by both methods, which allows the quality of the satellite-based and semi-automatic inventories to be assessed by comparison. About 95 000 glaciers remain to be inventoried, of which about half are in the Canadian Cordillera, South America and the Canadian Arctic Islands. As the cryosphere is changing rapidly, it is of the utmost importance to complete the global glacier inventory as soon as possible, and identify an appropriate repeat cycle.
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