- What was once considered to be permanent ice has declined in volume almost everywhere around the globe.
- Half the world’s glacial loss is coming from the United States and Canada.
- The near-uniform melting “mirrors the global increase in temperature” and is from the burning of coal, oil and gas.
Most of Earth’s glaciers are melting faster than ever because of human-caused climate change, dumping about 328 billion tons of melted ice into the world’s oceans each year, according to a new study.
In fact, what was once considered to be permanent ice has declined in volume almost everywhere around the globe, the study found.
Half the world’s glacial loss is coming from the United States and Canada, the study said.
Alaska’s melt rates are “among the highest on the planet,” with the Columbia glacier retreating about 115 feet a year, said study lead author Romain Hugonnet, a glaciologist at the University of Toulouse in France.
The estimates were based on high resolution 3D mapping of more than 200,000 glaciers, which is nearly all the glaciers on Earth. The analysis is the most comprehensive and accurate of its kind to date.
Ohio State University’s Lonnie Thompson said the study painted an “alarming picture.”
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Almost all the world’s glaciers are melting, even ones in Tibet that used to be stable, the study found. “The situation in the Himalayas is particularly worrying,” Hugonnet said.
“During the dry season, glacial meltwater is an important source that feeds major waterways,” he said. “Right now, this increased melting acts as a buffer for people living in the region, but if Himalayan glacier shrinkage keeps accelerating, populous countries like India and Bangladesh could face water or food shortages in a few decades.”
Glaciers tend to have a faster response to climate change compared with ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, Reuters said, and are contributing more to sea-level rise than either individual ice sheet.
The near-uniform melting “mirrors the global increase in temperature” and is from the burning of coal, oil and gas, Hugonnet said.
The study re-emphasizes that the world must bring down global temperatures to slow ice loss, Twila Moon, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center who was not involved in the study, told Reuters.
The largest threat is a rise in sea levels. The world’s oceans are already rising because warm water expands and because ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are melting, but glaciers are responsible for 21% of sea level rise, more than the ice sheets, the study said. However, the ice sheets are larger, longer-term threats.
The study was published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature.
Contributing: The Associated Press