Climate Change

Glaciers melted faster in the first decade of 21st century: study

According to the researchers, rising temperatures may affect the dynamics of ice sheets in future

By Suchetana Sinha
Published: Wednesday 05 August 2015

The World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) under the University of Zurich has compiled glacial change data over a period of 120 years. The primary objective of WGMS is to observe the behaviour of glaciers worldwide.

It has also published a study in the Journal of Glaciology recently which indicates an extensive loss of glacial ice in the past two decades, thus resulting in an imbalance in many parts of the world.

According to the researchers, rising temperatures may affect the dynamics of ice sheets in future.

Michael Zemp, the Director of the WGMS and lead author of the study, said glaciers were currently losing between half a metre and one metre of ice thickness every year.

“When comparing decadal mean values of available glacial mass balance data, it becomes evident that the first decade of the 21st century exhibits the most negative mass balances since the beginning of observational records,” the report reads.

More about the research

Approximately, 47,000 observations from 2,300 glaciers have been included in the research and some of them go as far back as the 16th century.

Quantitative information on glacial fluctuation is available from central Europe, Scandinavia, Iceland, western North America, New Zealand and the Southern Andes. Comparatively, limited data is available from glaciers around Greenland, Antarctica, Arctic Canada and Asia.

Climate change and avalanches

Last month, science journal Reviews of Geophysics published an interesting research on slow motion avalanches brought about by continuous rainfall and melting of snow. The study was carried out, following concerns that a significant rise in the number of damages were brought about by wet avalanches caused due to prolonged melting of snow and rains.

Witnesses present in the field were surprised to see how low speed masses of wet snow exert high pressure to damage structures designed to carry heavy loads.

Climate change has a significant impact on the frequency and intensity of gravity-driven flows (avalanches and debris flows) due to its effects on snow melting and glacier retreat, according to the study. The paper mentions that in recent years, numerous accidents have been caused by gliding snow packs and avalanches.

Various studies have shown a change in the global average temperature has caused the sea level to rise. Melting of glacial ice and polar ice caps adds on to it.

The scientific community has projected a total sea level rise of up to one metre by the end of the century. This will cause problems for communities living in low-lying regions.


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