Observational evidence indicates that a number of glaciers have lost mass in the past. Given that glaciers are highly impacted by the surrounding climate, human-influenced global warming may be partly responsible for mass loss. However, previous research studies have been limited to analyzing the past several decades, and it remains unclear whether past glacier mass losses are within the range of natural internal climate variability. Here, we apply an optimal fingerprinting technique to observed and reconstructed mass losses as well as multi-model general circulation model (GCM) simulations of mountain glacier mass to detect and attribute past glacier mass changes. An 8,800-year control simulation of glaciers enabled us to evaluate detectability. The results indicate that human-induced increases in greenhouse gases have contributed to the decreased area-weighted average masses of 85 analyzed glaciers. The effect was larger than the mass increase caused by natural forcing, although the contributions of natural and anthropogenic forcing to decreases in mass varied at the local scale. We also showed that the detection of anthropogenic or natural influences could not be fully attributed when natural internal climate variability was taken into account.
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