The loss of our glaciers is a threat to millions worldwide
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent and i. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; four times highly commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigations into the tobacco industry. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Thursday 14 August 2014
They are one of the most visible icons of the “cryosphere”, the cold parts of the world where temperatures fall below the freezing point of water, a natural tipping point that profoundly changes the environment.
And yet, only as a result of the long-term monitoring of mountain glaciers did it become apparent that they were disappearing – such is the glacial pace of glacier melting.
Around the world, from South America to Central Asia, mountain glaciers are melting faster than they are forming. There may be some individual exceptions, but by and large the picture it clear: glaciers everywhere are gradually disappearing.
The trend first became apparent in the 19th century and many geology textbooks put this down to the warming we enjoyed after the end of the “little ice age”, when frost fairs were held on the frozen River Thames between the 17th and early 19th centuries.
However, the study by Ben Marzeion and his colleagues for the first time teases out natural climate variability from the human effects on glacier melting. Their findings clearly indicate that the current rate of glacier melting is primarily down to anthropogenic global warming – man-made climate change.
The power of this analysis stems from the remarkable database of glacier statistics that have been accrued over the decades. Much of this data is now deposited in the newly established Randolph Glacier Inventory, the first global catalogue of all glaciers worldwide, which was primarily developed to help climate scientists to estimate sea level rise.
There are two ways of measuring changes to glaciers. The first is to estimate the total mass or volume of ice, which can produce a balance sheet of losses or gains. The second and easier way is to measure changes to the length of glaciers, which can also give a reasonably good estimate of the rate of melting.
From these measurements it is clear that the overall trend is one of rapid, if not accelerating glacier shrinkage, which could well lead to the complete deglaciation of large parts of many mountain ranges in the coming decades.
Aside from the impact this will have on global sea levels, there is the very real threat it poses to the millions of people who rely on glacier-fed rivers for their water supply. From the Andes to the Himalayas, the loss of mountain glaciers is a real concern.
Mammoth ivory trade: Should the prehistoric species be protected – to save the elephant?
Solar power: Subsidy cut will stop one million buildings installing rooftop panels
The top 10 weirdest animal mating rituals
Nasa says sea levels have risen faster than thought due to climate change
Climate change: July was the Earth's hottest month on record – while 2015 could be the warmest year, scientists say
- 1 The difference between a migrant and refugee, in one sentence
- 2 Miley Cyrus calls out hypocrisy of women’s nipples being taboo
- 3 Celebrity Big Brother 2015: Tila Tequila kicked off show after 'describing Hitler as a good man'
- 4 iPhone 5c to be discontinued, no iPhone 6c to replace it
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'deluding' young supporters with 'claptrap'
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
Iain Duncan Smith calls for urgent ESA overhaul as part of drive to cut down welfare costs
£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...
£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...
£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...