The future of glaciers

Alpine glaciers have been shrinking for more than one century. This trend is expected to continue if the global warming progresses. This film shows how mathematicians and glaciologists work together to produce realistic estimates of the future evolution of glaciers.

The mathematician calculates the movement of ice using complex equations, which can only be approximated by computer simulations. On the other hand, the glaciologist uses precipitation and temperature data in order to calculate the accumulation and melting of ice. Using all information available, that of the mathematician and the glaciologist, a method for simulating the evolution of glaciers over time is constructed.

As a validation test, the method correctly reconstructs the behaviour of the Rhone Glacier (Switzerland) during the 20th century. For the future, different possible climatic scenarios are explored, including a likely global warming and an unlikely global cooling. As a result, each scenario leads to very different predictions, from the disappearance of the glacier before 2100 to a substantial growth of the glacier tongue, as observed during the little ice age.

The film is available in English, French and German. Click on Launch for the interactive video.


The future of glaciers


Submitted by


This module won the third prize of the competition MPE 2013.
Guillaume Jouvet
Chantal Landry
Antonia Mey
Supported by: 
Institution: Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany Support: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (project KL 1806 5-1) Licence: Creative Commons BY-NC-ND