How many glaciers are there in Antarctica?

I’m an educator intern doing a display board about the different kinds of water on our planet. For glaciers, I want to write an interesting fact that kids can understand; can you tell me the total number of glaciers are in the Antarctic? An educated guess 🙂 Thank you!

Asked by Julia

Hi Julia,

This is a very difficult question to answer! That is because it depends on how you count a ‘glacier’.

Antarctica is largely made up of three ice sheets (Antarctic Peninsula, West Antarctic and East Antarctic), which are drained by outlet glaciers. Together, they contain 27 million km3 of ice. Some people divide these three ice sheets up further into 24 large drainage basins. These drainage basins can be further subdivided into outlet glaciers that drain the ice sheet. There are also many glaciers around the periphery of the three main ice sheets.

Wikipedia lists over 500 of named glaciers. Many thousands more, both large and small, have no name as yet. I mapped 195 distinct glaciers on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula alone, including outlet glaciers that drain the Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet and separate mountain glaciers and ice caps. Many of these have no name and so do not appear on the Wikipedia list.

Bliss et al. found 1133 ice caps and 1619 mountain glaciers from glaciers around the periphery of the Antarctic Ice Sheet overall – so, exluding the three main ice sheets.

So, the answer to your question, is that it depends on how you count a glacier. Do you only include peripheral glaciers, (in which case, 3 ice sheets, 1133 ice caps and 1619 mountain glaciers), or do you include the named outlet glaciers draining the three ice sheets (500 named and many more unnamed glaciers)?

2 thoughts on “How many glaciers are there in Antarctica?

  1. I’m a student and I want to know how people find them like our famous ones like today. Thank you.

    Sincerely: Makenna

  2. Australia is a dry continent and needs water to survive correct?

    If Australia were to send oil tankers that were never were used for the purpose of transporting oil but fresh water

    Is it cost effective to send those maritime transporting tankers to Antarctica to melt the fresh water ice and fill up the tankers to bring back to Australia and supply all with fresh water?

    Would that cause sea levels to rise around the world?

    If you have the answer please let know

    Plus I know no one owns Antarctica base on by the United Nations

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