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Glaciers Around the World are Melting with time: Scientists

A group of ice researchers and a photographer-filmmaker published pictures showing how much five of the world's glaciers have thinned

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Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska, USA, 16 September 2010, VOA

April 4, 2017: Over the past decade, scientists and photographers keep returning to the world’s glaciers, watching them shrink with each visit. Now they want others to see how a warming planet is melting masses of ice in a series of before-and-after photos.

In the Geological Society of America’s GSA Today journal , a group of ice researchers and a photographer-filmmaker published pictures showing how much five of the world’s glaciers have thinned.

“There is something fundamentally compelling about the approach they take. For all our emphasis on models and math, seeing is still believing,” said University of Colorado ice scientist Ted Scambos, who wasn’t part of the team.

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Under natural conditions, glaciers at times melt and retreat while others grow and advance. But measurements from Earth’s 5,200 glaciers show warming temperatures have increased the number of melting glaciers and the speed of glacial retreat, according to the study. Scientists primarily blame man-made global warming from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas.

“There is something that touches the heart more profoundly when you see it in pictures than when you see it in maps or reports or graphs,” said photographer James Balog, who founded the nonprofit Earth Vision Institute . “It certainly brings it alive.”

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Iceland

The Solheimajokull glacier has shriveled by about 2,050 feet (625 meters) between 2007 and 2015.

Alaska

The forward edge of the Mendenhall glacier outside of Juneau has receded about 1,800 feet (550 meters) between 2007 and 2015.

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Switzerland

The Stein glacier has shrunk about 1,800 feet (550 meters) between 2006 and 2015.

The Trift glacier has retreated nearly three quarters of a mile (1.17 kilometers) between 2006 and 2015.

Peru

Ohio State ice scientist Lonnie Thompson has visited the Qori Kalis glacier since 1974. Between 1978 and 2016, it has shriveled 3,740 feet (1.14 kilometers). Thompson described his regular expeditions to the Peruvian glacier “like visiting a terminally ill family member.”
-VOA

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Glaciers are Melting Much Faster than Scientists Thought

A new study shows they are losing 369 billion tons of snow and ice each year, more than half of that in North America.

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global warming, glaciers
FILE -An ice crevasse is seen on the Baishui Glacier No. 1, the world's fastest melting glacier due to its proximity to the Equator, on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the southern province of Yunnan in China, Sept. 22, 2018. VOA

Earth’s glaciers are melting much faster than scientists thought. A new study shows they are losing 369 billion tons of snow and ice each year, more than half of that in North America.

The most comprehensive measurement of glaciers worldwide found that thousands of inland masses of snow compressed into ice are shrinking 18 percent faster than an international panel of scientists calculated in 2013.

The world’s glaciers are shrinking five times faster now than they were in the 1960s. Their melt is accelerating due to global warming, and adding more water to already rising seas, the study found.

“Over 30 years suddenly almost all regions started losing mass at the same time,” said lead author Michael Zemp, director of the World Glacier Monitoring Service at the University of Zurich. “That’s clearly climate change if you look at the global picture.”

global warming, glaciers
The Collins glacier on King George Island has retreated in the last 10 years and shows signs of fragility, in the Antarctic, Feb. 2, 2018. VOA

The glaciers shrinking fastest are in central Europe, the Caucasus region, western Canada, the U.S. Lower 48 states, New Zealand and near the tropics. Glaciers in these places on average are losing more than 1 percent of their mass each year, according to a study in Monday’s journal Nature.

“In these regions, at the current glacier loss rate, the glaciers will not survive the century,” Zemp said.

Zemp’s team used ground and satellite measurements to look at 19,000 glaciers, far more than previous studies. They determined that southwestern Asia is the only region of 19 where glaciers are not shrinking, which Zemp said is due to local climate conditions.

Since 1961, the world has lost 10.6 trillion tons of ice and snow (9.6 trillion metric tons), the study found. That’s enough to cover the lower 48 U.S. states in about 4 feet of ice.

Scientists have known for a long time that global warming caused by human activities like burning coal, gasoline and diesel for electricity and transportation is making Earth loose its ice. They have been especially concerned with the large ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica.

This study, “is telling us there’s much more to the story,” said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, who wasn’t part of the study. “The influence of glaciers on sea level is bigger than we thought.”

A number of factors are making sea levels rise. The biggest cause is that oceans are getting warmer, which makes water expand. The new figures show glacier melt is a bigger contributor than thought, responsible for about 25% to 30% of the yearly rise in oceans, Zemp said.

Rising seas threaten coastal cities around the world and put more people at risk of flooding during storms.

glaciers, global warming
The suns sets against an iceberg floating in the Nuup Kangerlua Fjord near Nuuk in southwestern Greenland, Aug. 1, 2017. Greenland’s glaciers have been melting and retreating at an accelerated pace in recent years due to warmer temperatures. VOA

Glaciers grow in winter and shrink in summer, but as the Earth has warmed, they are growing less and shrinking more. Zemp said warmer summer temperatures are the main reason glaciers are shrinking faster.

While people think of glaciers as polar issues, shrinking mountain glaciers closer to the equator can cause serious problems for people who depend on them, said Twila Moon, a snow and ice data center scientist who also wasn’t part of the study. She said people in the Andes, for example, rely on the glaciers for drinking and irrigation water each summer.

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A separate study Monday in Environmental Research Letters confirmed faster melting and other changes in the Arctic. It found that in winter, the Arctic is warming 2.8 times faster than the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. Overall, the region is getting more humid, cloudier and wetter.

“It’s on steroids, it’s hyperactive,” said lead author Jason Box, a scientist for the Danish Meteorological Institute. (VOA)