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Abstract Small, stagnating ice caps at high latitudes are particularly sensitive to climatic fluctuations, especially with regard to changes in ablation season temperature. We conducted mass balance measurements and GPS area surveys on four small High Arctic plateau ice caps from 1999–2002. We compared these measurements with topographic maps and aerial photography from 1959, and with previously published data. Net mass balance (bn) of Murray Ice Cap was −0.49 (1999), −0.29 (2000), −0.47 (2001), and −0.29 (2002), all in meters of water equivalent (m w.eq.). The mass balance of nearby Simmons Ice Cap was also negative in 2000 (bn=−0.40 m w.eq.) and in 2001 (bn=−0.52 m w.eq.). All four ice caps experienced substantial marginal recession and area reductions of between 30 and 47% since 1959. Overall, these icecaps lost considerable mass since at least 1959, except for a period between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s characterized regionally by reduced summer melt, positive mass balance, and ice cap advance. The regional equilibrium line altitude (ELA) is located, on average, above the summits of the ice caps, indicating that they are remnants of past climatic conditions and out of equilibrium with present climate. The ice caps reached a Holocene maximum and were several times larger during the Little Ice Age (LIA) and their current recession reflects an adjustment to post-LIA climatic conditions. At current downwasting rates the ice masses on the Hazen Plateau will completely disappear by, or soon after, the mid-21st century.