Saturday January 18, 2020

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)

Next Story

Study Says, World’s Oceans Were Warmest in 2019

Humans can work to reverse their effect on the climate, but the ocean will take longer to respond than atmospheric and land environments

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Oceans
The researchers used a relatively new method of analysis to account for potentially sparse data and time discrepancies in instruments that were previously used to measure warmth in oceans, especially from the ocean surface to 2,000 metres deep. Pixabay

The world’s oceans were the warmest in 2019 than any other time in the recorded human history — especially between the surface and a depth of 2,000 metres, an international team of 14 scientists from 11 institutes has revealed, with a warning that global ocean temperature is not only increasing but speeding up.

The past 10 years were the warmest on record for global ocean temperatures, with the past five years holding the highest record, said the authors in the study published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences — with a call to action for humans to reverse climate change.

2019 broke the previous records set in prior years for global warming, and the effects are already appearing in the form of more extreme weather, rising sea levels and harm to ocean animals.

According to the study, the 2019 ocean temperature is about 0.075 degrees Celsius above the 1981-2010 average. To reach this temperature, the ocean would have taken in 228,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (228 Sextillion) Joules of heat.

“That’s a lot of zeros indeed. To make it easier to understand, I did a calculation. The Hiroshima atom-bomb exploded with an energy of about 63,000,000,000,000 Joules. The amount of heat we have put in the world’s oceans in the past 25 years equals to 3.6 billion Hiroshima atom-bomb explosions,” elaborated Lijing Cheng, lead paper author at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

“This measured ocean warming is irrefutable and is further proof of global warming. There are no reasonable alternatives aside from the human emissions of heat trapping gases to explain this heating,” Cheng added.

The researchers used a relatively new method of analysis to account for potentially sparse data and time discrepancies in instruments that were previously used to measure ocean warmth, especially from the ocean surface to 2,000 metres deep.

The newly available data allowed the researchers to examine warmth trends dating back to the 1950s.

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The world’s oceans were the warmest in 2019 than any other time in the recorded human history — especially between the surface and a depth of 2,000 metres, an international team of 14 scientists from 11 institutes has revealed, with a warning that global ocean temperature is not only increasing but speeding up. Pixabay

They found that over the past six decades, the more recent warming was over 450 per cent that of the earlier warming, reflecting a major increase in the rate of global climate change.

“It is critical to understand how fast things are changing,” said John Abraham, co-author and professor of mechanical engineering at the University of St. Thomas in the US.

“The key to answering this question is in the oceans — that’s where the vast majority of heat ends up. If you want to understand global warming, you have to measure ocean warming.”

Humans can work to reverse their effect on the climate, but the ocean will take longer to respond than atmospheric and land environments.

Since 1970, more than 90 per cent of global warming heat went into the ocean, while less than 4 per cent of the heat warmed the atmosphere and land where humans live.

“Even with that small fraction affecting the atmosphere and land, the global heating has led to an increase in catastrophic fires in the Amazon, California and Australia in 2019, and we’re seeing that continue into 2020,” Cheng said.

The global ocean warming has caused marine heat waves in Tasman Sea and other regions.

One such marine heat wave in the North Pacific, dubbed “the blob,” was first detected in 2013 and continued through 2015.

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2019 broke the previous records set in prior years for global warming, and the effects are already appearing in the form of more extreme weather, rising sea levels and harm to animals in Oceans. Pixabay

Kevin Trenberth, co-author and distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the US, said that a hot spot in the Gulf of Mexico in 2017 spawned Hurricane Harvey, which led to 82 deaths and caused about $108 billion in damages.

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“The price we pay is the reduction of ocean-dissolved oxygen, the harmed marine lives, strengthening storms and reduced fisheries and ocean-related economies,” Cheng said. (IANS)