The study, published in the Oct. 11 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research, is an improvement on previous estimates of the global ice volume because it uses a physical approach, said lead study author Matthias Huss, a glaciologist at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.
The glacier count comes from the recently released Randolph Glacier Inventory and global topography from NASA satellite data.
"To date, the volume of glaciers was only estimated using very simple empirical equations with high uncertainties," Huss told OurAmazingPlanet in an email interview. "Our new method not only provides an estimate of the ice volume, but allows calculating local ice thickness on a fine grid for each of the 200,000 glaciers worldwide," he said.
Predicting sea level rise
Compared with the potential sea level rise from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the volume of land-based glaciers is relatively small, Huss said. For example, completely melting the Greenland ice sheet would add 23 feet (7 meters) to the average global sea level, according to a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).