Worldwide collection of information about ongoing glacier changes was initiated in 1894 with the foundation of the International Glacier Commission at the 6th International Geological Congress in Zurich, Switzerland. It was hoped that long-term glacier observations would give insight into processes of climatic change such as the formation of ice ages. Since then, the goals of international glacier monitoring have evolved and multiplied.
Since this beginning of internationally coordinated systematic observations on glacier variations in 1894, a valuable and increasingly important data basis on glacier changes has been built up. In 1986 the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) started to maintain and continue the collection of information on glacier changes, when the two former ICSI services PSFG (Permanent Service on Fluctuations of Glaciers) and TTS/WGI (Temporal Technical Secretariat/World Glacier Inventory) were combined.
Today, the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) collects standardized observations on changes in mass, volume, area and length of glaciers with time (glacier fluctuations), as well as statistical information on the distribution of perennial surface ice in space (glacier inventories). Such glacier fluctuation and inventory data are high priority key variables in climate system monitoring; they form a basis for hydrological modelling with respect to possible effects of atmospheric warming, and provide fundamental information in glaciology, glacial geomorphology and quaternary geology. The highest information density is found for the Alps and Scandinavia, where long and uninterrupted records are available.
The WGMS is a service of the International Association of the Cryospheric Sciences of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IACS, IUGG) as well as of the World Data System of the International Science Council (ISC, formerly ICSU) and works under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).