Where Have all the Glaciers Gone?

With the new year upon us, it is time that we take a long honest look at global warming, our disappearing glaciers, how it affects our water and what we can do to address this crisis.

Glaciers are found on every continent in the world, except Australia. They have been a fascinating subject for scientists for centuries. They have been weighed and measured along every dimension – width, length, diameter, and thickness. And they are disappearing. Quickly.

 

Thousands of Years to Form—Decades to Disappear

Glaciers form from snow that builds up year over year, without melting. Over time the snow compresses into layers of ice. Over time the layers of ice solidify, creating a glacier. This process can take hundreds of years to thousands of years. [1]

In Alaska alone, 46 gigatons of ice was lost between 2003 and 2010. The Muir Glacier in Alaska’s Glacier Bay retreated seven miles and decreased 800 meters in thickness between the years 1941 – 2004. [2]

When Montana’s Glacier National Park was opened in 1910, there were over 150 glaciers. A hundred years later there are less than 30 glaciers. Some predict that, by the year 2050, there will be no glaciers left in the park.

The glaciers in the Himalayas are retreating so fast that they are not expected to last more than another 20 years. Since 1912 Japan’s Mt. Kilimanjaro has had 80% of its snow melt. Greenland, Peru, Switzerland, Indonesia – virtually everywhere around the globe all forms of sea ice have been receding at a frightening rate. 40% of the glaciers in the Alps have melted and more has melted since 1989 than over the previous 120 years. Only in the Antarctic has there been less than a 10% loss, and that is because of the constant below-freezing temperature – whatever melts refreezes immediately. [3]

Why?—Global Warming of Course

Glacier movement is one of the best early warnings of global warming. For years  scientists have been excavating and studying ice cores from glaciers around the world. By analyzing these cores, and in particular the trapped air bubbles, scientists can learn about vegetation, temperatures and climate conditions, year by year.

Some scientists believe that the melting began in the mid-18th century, at the beginning of the Industrial Age. They believe that it is no coincidence that the glaciers in Europe started their serious retreat in the late 19th century, at the same time that coal was being used for both heating and electricity.

There is a consensus among scientists that there is 40% more carbon dioxide and at least 300% more methane in the atmosphere than just 200 years ago. These gases absorb the heat released from the Earth, causing atmospheric heating — i.e., global warming. [4]

Some people may acknowledge global warming, but are not convinced of man’s contribution to the problem. No matter what the cause, however, there is no arguing with the fact that the first decade of the new millennium was the hottest decade in the last 1,300 years. And this decade is even hotter.[5]

How Does Melting Glaciers Affect Our Water?

More than 50% of the world’s fresh water supply comes from glacier runoff and snow melt. Since the beginning of mankind freshwater sources were replenished in the summer by the runoff. There have been major droughts in areas that have depended on glacier and snow runoff as their source of water. [6]

Our drinking water supply is vulnerable for various reasons:

  • It is not unusual for the drinking water supply to be contaminated by untreated sewage overflow caused by heavy rainfalls mixed with increased glacier and snow runoff.
  • Due to the large amount of glacier runoff into the seas, the sea level is rising measurably, with the threat of sea water intruding into drinking water sources.
  • With glaciers disappearing and less mountain snow runoff to fertile areas below, there is less water for irrigation, forcing the use of already scarce drinking water for crops. [7]
What Can We Do?

There is plenty that we can do to improve the situation. We can start by conserving energy. A great first step is simple things like turning off lights, using public transportation, better insulating our homes to reduce air conditioning and heating usage.

By conserving resources, as well as carpooling and driving less, we can make an impact on the greenhouse gases that are considered a major cause of global warming. [6] We at Arad Group are proud of the role that we play in water sustainability. Our precision meters and advanced Meter Data Management (MDM) platforms help utilities and consumers reduce water wastage.

In short, if everyone does their small part to help conserve our limited resources, the cumulative effect will help preserve our world for generations to come.

Final Note

Global warming is here and it is costing trillions of dollars and thousands lives. In 2017 there were more forests destroyed by fires and damage done by storms and hurricanes than ever recorded in modern history. The costs of these disasters were over $300 billion and over 11,000 lives lost. Action must start now, because the forecast for 2018 is more of the same. [7]

In the study of disaster sociology, we learn that in times of disaster, people instinctively come together to help each other survive. If humankind could truly understand and acknowledge the threat that global warming poses to our survival, we could surely win the fight and keep our planet healthy for many generations to come.

References

[1] National Snow and Ice Data Center, All about Glaciers: How are Glaciers Formed, 2017
[2] Holly Shaftel, NASA Climate Change, December, 2017
 [3] Daniel Glick, National Geographic: The Big Thaw, September 2004
[4] National Snow and Ice Data Center, All About Glaciers: Glaciers and Climate Change, 2017
[5] Melissa Denchak, Are the Effects of Global Warming Really That Bad?, March 15, 2016
[6] GRACE Communication Foundation, The Impact of Climate Change on Water Resources
[7] Adam Rogers, Fighting Climate Change, and Building a World to Withstand it, December, 28, 2017

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