Chilling proof that glacier meltdown is getting faster

A A A

Many of the world's mountain glaciers are melting at a faster rate than at any time in the past 150 years, according to the latest assessment by glaciologists.

Scientists believe that the Alps, in particular, are experiencing a rapid disappearance of glaciers formed during the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago.

The scale of the phenomenon is revealed in photographs of dozens of glaciers, taken several decades apart, which show how they have shrunk over the past century. Glaciers as far apart as Alaska and Austria, from Greenland in the north to the Andes in the south, are showing signs of an accelerating retreat that appears to be linked to climate change.

Michael Zemp and colleagues from the World Glacier Monitoring Service at the University of Zurich in Switzerland believe that warmer air temperatures in Europe in recent decades is behind the rapid loss of Alpine glaciers.

"Glaciers have been shrinking since 1850 but there has been a definite acceleration over the past two decades," Dr Zemp said.

The latest study shows that there has been a 50 per cent decrease in the area of the Alps covered by glaciers over the past 150 years. However, the rate of loss between the 1970s and 2000 was almost three times faster than the rate of loss seen between 1850 and 1970, Dr Zemp said.

In fact, the situation is even more dramatic because much of the loss between 1970 and 2000 occurred after 1985. And since 2000 there have been exceptionally warm years where glaciers have shrunk even faster than in previous years, Dr Zemp said.

"After the mid-1980s, glacial retreat in the European Alps really started to happen much more quickly than before. The summer of 2003 was particularly pronounced," he said.

From June to mid-August in 2003, a heatwave centred on France, Switzerland and northern Italy sent average temperatures soaring 3C above normal for these summer months.

Scientists estimated that the average glacier thickness of the Alps shrunk by about 3 metres during 2003, nearly twice the amount lost in the previous record year, 1998, and about five times more than the annual Alpine average. Alpine glaciers had already lost more than 25 per cent of their volume in the 25 years prior to 2003, and roughly two-thirds of their total volume since 1850. At this rate, about half of the total volume of Alpine glaciers would melt by 2025 and less than 10 per cent would still be ice by the end of the century.

Some glaciers, such as those in Norway, are expanding as a result of heavier snowfall linked with warmer air temperatures but most of the world glaciers appear to be in retreat, said Bruce Molnia of the US Geological Survey.

"There is no question that on a global basis we're seeing a warming that goes back several centuries. There are 2,000 glaciers that descend to below 1,500 metres in Alaska and about 99 per cent of them are retreating," Dr Molnia said.

The loss of glaciers is probably part of a natural process that began with the ending of the last ice, but man-made climate change could also be playing a role.

"Global warming is one factor, but if humans went extinct, glaciers would still be in retreat," Dr Molnia said. "Should we be worried? If glaciers are the source of your drinking water or if you live in an area that is vulnerable to sea-level rise, then yes, you should be worried. But in the longer term, the advance and retreat of glaciers is part of a natural cycle."

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam