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On Thinner Ice: New photography project provides stark proof of melting glaciers on the roof of the world.

By Joe Romm  

"On Thinner Ice: New photography project provides stark proof of melting glaciers on the roof of the world."

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Global warming is melting 18,000 Himalayan glaciers — the largest concentration of glaciers outside the great polar ice sheets. If the present melt rate continues, many of these glaciers will be gone by the middle of this century, disrupting the perennial water supply to hundreds of millions of people.

To explore this growing collection of glacier images from the “roof of the world” — including a must-see video made by mountaineer and filmmaker David Breashears, Founder and Project Leader of Glacier Research Imaging Project (GRIP) — go to the Asia Society’s “On Thinner Ice” website.

For some of the underlying science, see my November 2008 post, Another climate impact comes faster than predicted: Himalayan glaciers “decapitated.” It discussed an important paper by leading international cryosphere scientists, including American’s own Lonnie Thompson, “Mass loss on Himalayan glacier endangers water resources,” which concluded ominously:

If Naimona’nyi is characteristic of other glaciers in the region, alpine glacier meltwater surpluses are likely to shrink much faster than currently predicted with substantial consequences for approximately half a billion people.

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The study notes that Naimona’nyi is the highest glacier (6 kilometers above sea level) “documented to be losing mass annually.” MSNBC reported:

Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State University and a team of researchers traveled to central Himalayas in 2006 to study the Naimona’nyi glacier, expecting to find some melting”¦. But when the team analyzed samples of glacier, what they found stunned them….

In fact, the glacier had melted so much that the exposed surface of the glacier dated to 1944….

“At the highest elevations, we’re seeing something like an average of 0.3 degrees Centigrade warming per decade,” Thompson said….

“I have not seen much as compelling as this to demonstrate how some glaciers are just being decapitated,” Shawn Marshall of the University of Calgary said….

“You can think of glaciers kind of like water towers, ” he said. “They collect water from the monsoon in the wet season, and release it in the dry season. But how effective they are depends on how much water is in the towers.”

The time to act is now.

Thanks to the Asia Society for providing me that awesome sliding “then and now” photograph of Mount Everest.

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5 Responses to On Thinner Ice: New photography project provides stark proof of melting glaciers on the roof of the world.

  1. Leif says:

    Here on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington we have over 60 active glaciers that serve the same function along with winter snow pack. These mountains are very steep and water tends to run off quickly in liquid form. The elevation of most is 6 to 7,000 feet. My 4 year old grandson will be looking at a far different world at my age. Thank you Exxon and all, you can be sure I will do something nice for you one of these days…
    IMPACT WEEK

  2. J.A. Turner says:

    It would have more impact to show when glacial melt waters peaked (or will peak) and how quickly the flows will decline. The effects on agriculture and residential water use will start showing up long before the glaciers are gone. One thing that doesn’t seem to get through to the public is that millions of people are already suffering the effects of climate destabilization. It’s not some way off in the future theoretical threat that might not really happen. It’s already happening.

  3. Leif says:

    I would be my opinion that today is the day of peak melt and tomorrow will be a new peak and on an on, because we are continuing to add to the problem each day. That is of course until all the snow and ice is water and the seas are ~200 feet higher. Oh, the highest point in Florida is about 320 feet if memory serves me correct.

  4. The melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas is definitely going to be a political and possible military flashpoint for Pakistan/India/Bangladesh. Gwynne Dier’s book Climate Wars discusses this and other flashpoints that will develop in a warmer world. Scary stuff.

  5. Roger says:

    Yes, Leif, IMPACT Week, International Motivate the resident to ACT week, is NEXT week: Call President Obama at 202-456-1111 and ask him to go on prime-time national TV to explain the need for US international LEADERSHIP on climate change.

    Obama needs to wake Americans up to the tremendous OPPORTUNITY we now have for our country to maintain its technical edge in the new, clean-energy future that we need to adopt. Our atmosphere will be degraded to the point of no return if we don’t act soon.

    So, have an IMPACT on Obama. Ask him to give a “State of the Planet” address. Call the above number (9-5, M-F), or simply visit http://www.whitehouse.gov (24×7), go to the upper-right corner, click on the ‘Contact’ button, select a category for your comment (Energy, Environment or Other–there is no Climate Change), then fill in the blanks. (You can also mail a letter with your request, mailing it to President Barack Obama, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC 20500.)