During the past 150 years, mountain glaciers have shown a worldwide retreat. It has been argued that this is related to the warming which is predicted to result from increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere; however, this warming has not been detected in a statistically significant way from instrumental records. I demonstrate here that the lower part of a valley glacier is extremely sensitive to a local warming, induced by an increase in the radiation budget. For glaciers covering only a small fraction of a valley, the effect is particularly dramatic. Thus valley glaciers may be extremely vulnerable to the presence of infrared-absorbing gases in the atmosphere, and could therefore be better detectors of a possible carbon dioxide warming than is generally assumed
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