May 21, 2022

Can You Drink Glacier Water? The Definitive Answer

by Bernice

Most of the world’s fresh water is stored in the glaciers. Most people ask whether they can drink glacier water to know if they should carry water on their next outdoor adventure. Glacier water is not safe if you do not make it drinkable with specialized methods. We will discuss all aspects of the drinkability of glacier water.

Table of Contents

Can You Drink Glacier Water?

Unless you purify the glacier water with a water purifier such as LifeStraw Personal Water Filter or Potable Aqua Water Purification tablets, you should not drink glacier water.

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Is All Glacier Meltwater Unsafe for Drinking?

Some glacier water can be safe for drinking because it can be a recent snow deposit without microbes or toxins. People do not drink it because they do not know about the content.

You cannot identify toxins and microbes in the water without chemical tests or a microscope. Most people cannot carry these things with them on an outdoor adventure.

We advise against drinking the glacier meltwater because of the high-risk factor. If you have chemical reagents and microscopes to check the water safety, you can drink it without processing.

Some of them are formed thousands of years ago. You cannot have all the reagents to check the chemical composition because it can have many unknown chemicals.

It is better to avoid drinking the glacier water after testing as you may not have enough testing facilities. Read further about why ice in glaciers is a mineral, but the water in glaciers is not.

Can You Drink Glacier Water
Can You Drink Glacier Water?

Related Article: Is Ice a Mineral?

What Makes Most Glacier Water Undrinkable?

When we answered “no” to all the people asking whether you could drink glacier meltwater, they asked why we should avoid glacier meltwater? There are many reasons why glaciers were formed thousands of years ago.

It can have many chemicals and toxins that can harm you. When we check the waters in rivers and lakes, we know what to search for.

It can have chemical waste from the local industry or human poop. We can also check the traces of the animal remains in the water.

We can perform limited tests to check water safety. It is different with the glacier meltwater as there are hundreds of quality tests for the drinkability of this water.

It is better to process the water from glaciers before use or get your water supply from home before going to the glaciers for the tour.

Some things are found frequently in the glacier meltwater. These things make it unsafe for humans.

  1. Dead animal remains
  2. Microscopic parasite
  3. Human poop
  4. Inorganic and organic contaminants
  5. Clay and silt

Related Article: Where Are the Biggest Glacier Outside of Antarctica?

1. Dead animal remains

The biggest threat to humans from the glacier meltwater is the dead animal remains. If animals die in the ice, their dead bodies do not decompose. It is like placing something in the freezer.

This cold environment will also keep the bacteria and viruses dormant. Scientists have found thousands of years old bacteria alive in the carcasses of the dead animals in the glacier.

Healthcare workers faced an emergency when they found an animal that died of anthrax in the glaciers. The bacteria were alive in it.

It means that these bacteria can infect other animals, leading to a global pandemic. To save yourself and others, you should avoid drinking the glacier meltwater.

If you do not see anything in the water, there is no guarantee that it does not have animal remains. Scientists have found the dead animal and plant remains in the clear-looking water of the glaciers.

It can be a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. These pathogens remain dormant for hundreds of years. When they find a suitable environment, they propagate quickly.

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2. Microscopic parasite

Diarrhea and giardiasis are diseases that occur due to drinking unsafe water. Many viruses can also survive in a cold environment.

Scientists have found viruses that are thousands of years old in the glacier water. Some of these viruses are new to humans also. These viruses and bacteria can cause deadly diseases in humans.

The Discovery of anthrax and mega virus in the glacier water is an example of these cases. One should only drink water from the glacier after purification and testing.

We also need to stop the myth that bacteria and viruses die on the ice.

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3. Human poop

If water has human poop, it is gross and unsafe for drinking. Human poop can have all the toxins and bacteria excreted by humans. If you leave poop in ice, more bacteria can grow on it to produce toxins.

When the poop mix with water, you cannot identify it as it dissolves completely. Most human poop comes to the glaciers because of tourism.

Thousands of people come to Alaska to visit famous glaciers. Most of them do not have the facility of toilets. They poop in the ice leading to the glacier meltwater contamination.

Some people suggest that you dig into glaciers to get to the poop-free layer to drink water. It is also unsafe because humans have visited glaciers for thousands of years.

There is a chance that deep layers also have poop. It is unsafe to drink the water coming down from the glacier as it can also have poop traces and deadly bacteria.

Is Drink Glacier Water a Good Idea
Is Drink Glacier Water a Good Idea?

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4. Inorganic and organic contaminants

Most organic and inorganic contaminants are difficult to identify because they do not have smell and taste. Heavy metals are the most frequently found inorganic contaminants.

Arsenic and nitrates are the most troublesome contaminants because they will cause poisoning. Some places can also have mercury and fluoride.

These elements come to glaciers due to the decomposing minerals and rocks. You will find hydrocarbons, phenols, pesticides, and herbicides in the ice glaciers.

It can also make its way to the meltwater. You may not feel anything when you drink the water because it will show effects after many days.

Related Article: What Happens When a Glacier Encounters the Sea or a Lake?

5. Clay and silt

Some people suggest that you filter the water of the glacier to get rid of the clay and silt. They claim that you can drink this water after filtration.

Most filters do not specialize in glacier water filtration because water can have many dissolved contaminants. You can quickly identify the silt and clay in the water by observing it closely.

Water will appear cloudy if it has one of these contaminants. The clay in the glaciers does not have the same properties as the one present in your garden.

This clay is made of dead animals, dead plants, and decomposed minerals. You may drink water after you filter it at home because you know about the composition of the clay. It is better to avoid water in glaciers that appear cloudy.

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How to Make Glacier Water Safe for Drinking?

You need portable water to brush or clean yourself. You can produce large quantities of potable water by filtration.

The case is not the same with the drinking water, as you have to make sure it is free from contaminants and pathogens. You need to pass the glacier water in two steps to make it drinkable.

You need to take a clean container to boil the water. It is crucial to wait for the water to boil before you start the countdown.

Once the water is boiling, you can wait for a few minutes before taking it off the stove. When you are at a high altitude, the water may boil at a lower temperature due to the low atmospheric pressure.

It is better to get a container that can hold the boiling pressure. It will increase the effectiveness of boiling.

You can pass this water from a filter to make it safer. You need to consider the temperature of the water when you pass it from the filter.

Most portable water filters cannot hold the boiling water. You can boil the water and wait for it to get cold before passing it from the filter.

You can get specialized portable filters from the store. These have a peculiar design to filter the water of the glaciers.

Filtration may take some time as it is unsuitable for applying pressure. If you do not have a membrane water filter, applying pressure can lead to leakage of contaminants.

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Can you drink glacial mountain water without heating it and survive in freezing conditions?

Most humans cannot survive drinking the cold water of glaciers without heating as you need to protect yourself from cold and pathogens to survive without heating the glacial water.

You need food with high caloric content to get enough calories to heat the water to the body temperature. You can increase your chances of survival if you do not drink water in more quantities as you can sip the water slowly.

No heating means that you cannot boil the water also. When you do not boil the water, it may contain pathogens. If the pathogen for giardiasis enters your body, you may get severe diarrhea.

You have to go to the hospital immediately in this case. If you delay your hospital visit, you may die in the freezing condition of the glacier.

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Final Thoughts on the Questions “Can You Dring Glaciers Water”

You should take your drinking water with you when you visit the glaciers. If you want to drink the glacial water, you should boil and purify it.

Drinking this water without purification can cause diseases. Some people claim that there were no issues after drinking this water.

They may suffer from delayed effects that are not visible now. It is also a chance that they got lucky. It is unsuitable to risk your life believing someone’s story.

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Last Updated on March 15, 2023 by Roger

About the author


Bernice often jokes that she is better at climbing than walking. With avid parents of climbing, her first encounter with the high vertical rock walls was at the age of one. Her favorite style of climbing is bouldering.

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