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Worlds Glaciers Shrink for 18th Year

By Joe Romm  

"Worlds Glaciers Shrink for 18th Year"

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Like the Wicked Witch of the West, the world is melting.

The University of Zurich’s World Glacier Monitoring Service reports that in 2006 and 2007 that the world’s glaciers lost 2 meters (2000 mm) of thickness on average:

glacier-2009.jpg

They note, “The new data continues the global trend in accelerated ice loss over the past few decades.” The rate of ice loss is twice as fast as a decade ago.

This is consistent with other recent research (see Another climate impact comes faster than predicted: Himalayan glaciers “decapitated” and AGU 2008: Two trillion tons of land ice lost since 2003 and links below).

Bloomberg has an excellent story on report:

“One year doesn’t tell us much, it’s really these long-term trends that help us to understand what’s going on,” Michael Zemp, a researcher at the University of Zurich’s Department of Geography, said in an interview. “The main thing that we can do to stop this is reduce greenhouse gases” that are blamed for global warming.

The Alps have suffered more than other regions with half of the region’s glacier terrain having disappeared since the 1850s, Zemp said. Almost 90 percent of the glaciers in the Alps are smaller than 1 square kilometer (0.4 square mile) and some are as thin as 30 meters, he said….

Glaciers further inland in Alaska in such sites as the Kenai mountains and Scandinavia matched the overall declining trend seen in Chile, Colombia and throughout the Alps.

The World Glacier Monitoring Program has measured 30 glaciers, of an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 worldwide, in nine mountain ranges since 1980. More ice has been lost than gained on average in 25 of the past 28 years with the last year of growth reported in 1989, when the Berlin Wall was dismantled and Communist regimes fell across eastern Europe.

Glacier loss is measured by hammering poles into the ice sheet and observing how much the ice has retreated or gained against the measuring rod. Calculations are made too at the tongue or end of the glacier while satellite technology is also employed, Zemp said.

The pace of the decline has doubled since the 1990s, when the average loss was about 0.3 meters compared with 0.7 meters now, he said….

Some glaciers in the Alps, including Italy’s Calderone, have shrunk so much it’s becoming difficult to take accurate measurements, Zemp said. Such ice has not recovered from the 2003 European summer heat wave that melted the snow, revealing darker ice underneath which heats up faster than whiter surfaces.

The global average temperature has risen 0.76 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times as humans used more fossil fuels to generate energy and power machinery, according to the UN’s Environment Program.

Ice melt is even speeding in Greenland. In 2007, U.S. scientists discovered that water from melting glaciers, draining from a 5.6 square-kilometer lake on Greenland’s ice sheet, reached a peak flow exceeding that of Niagara Falls.

We might avoid the Witch’s fate of melting entirely — if we only had a brain (see “Stabilize at 350 ppm or risk ice-free planet, warn NASA, Yale, Sheffield, Versailles, Boston et al“).

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9 Responses to Worlds Glaciers Shrink for 18th Year

  1. llewelly says:

    Like the Wicked Witch of the West, the world is melting.

    Perhaps you’ve figured it out, Joe. Perhaps the denialists believe Mother Earth is the Wicked Witch of the West, and want her to melt. Gaia, is, after all, a ‘pagan’ goddess.

    (No, I do not believe a significant proportion of denialists want to make the earth uninhabitable by humans, even if they function that way. Nor do I believe in any supernatural entities.)

  2. Mauri Pelto says:

    I am glad you reported on this. Moles tell me realclimate will look at this issue soon, you beat em to it. What is particularly interesting is the similarity in the mass balance record from region to region and glacier to glacier of late. For North America look at the chart on this page http://www.nichols.edu/departments/glacier/north%20american%20glacier%20mass%20balance.htm
    There is only one forcing that can generate a relatively synchronous single for glacier mass balance. Global Temp. The result for glacier termini is also chronicled by WGMS though it is less comprehensive of the global record. For mass balance basically all the sites for mass balance reportTo learn how to measure mass balance in more detail take a look at http://www.nichols.edu/departments/glacier/mb.htm

  3. Denialists are the pandering bag-boys for big power and big finance.

    Clearly seeing the decimation to come, they use these shills to retain carbon fuel wealth, to continue bleeding the future by industrial CO2 emissions, and influence public policy designed to prop up a failing carbon fuel economy.

    This glacier study is strong evidence of serious trouble. I expect silence from denialists on this issue.

  4. mauri pelto says:

    Take a look at the trend in terminus behavior from WGMS see any pattern?
    http://www.grid.unep.ch/glaciers/img/5-1.jpg

  5. Mark Shapiro says:

    Slightly OT, but you can watch polar sea ice melt at UIC’s cryosphere today website. Looking at Antarctica, at

    arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/antarctic.jpg

    would you say that the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet has just been exposed to the open Pacific Ocean for the first time?

  6. paulm says:

    What its going to be like on a regular basis in 5 – 10 yrs. what ever we do.

    Think civilization is going to survive? Its going to be a close call.

    Australia counts heatwave deaths
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7862260.stm

  7. Rick says:

    How much do you want to read into the heatwave? It’s “one of the worst heatwaves in 100 years”

    theres no indication that it’s getting worse every year or more common. It’s just a bad one. Just like the bad winter in a lot of places doesn’t mean anything.

  8. K. Nockels says:

    Going, Going…….Gone?There are so many new reports out it’s getting hard to keep up. They keep coming and we don’t seem to be doing. My belief that we will wake-up and get it before its to late is thinning along with glaciers. Really Rick a heatwave is just a heatwavet no worse this heatwave then the last? Except the pattern around the world, a little worse each time. Happening in more places weather events are a little worse, cost a little more, happen more years than not. Than we hit the 1,2,or 3 tipping points and over we go.

  9. I don’t really have any weekend plans!