Saturday, February 19, 2011

Glaciers are DISAPPEARING!

One of the most noticeable effects of climate change is the melting of glaciers around the world. These expansive ice sheets have been monitored since the late 19th century. Through increased technology in both aerial and satellite photography after World War II, enough data has been collected to determine that the melting and retreating of glaciers has been occurring since at least 1980. Currently there are between 150,000 to 200,000 glaciers which are all being reduced due to the increase of atmospheric temperature. This increase has caused glaciers to melt and retreat upslope at an average rate of 10 meters per year. While many effects of climate change are not easily understood or observed, many people use glaciers as a key example due to the fact that the cause and effect relationship is easy to understand; increased temperature causes glacial ice to melt. This phenomena was first recognized by the public through large scale examples of glacial melt at popular tourist attractions such as Mr. Kilimanjaro and Glacier National Park. When a dead body was found in a melting glacier in the Alps, authorities thought it was a hiker. In reality the man had died and laid there for thousands of years, only to be uncovered after the ice melted.

Consequences of retreating and melting glaciers are very straightforward. If glaciers continue to melt sea level will rise, water resources will be threatened, natural hazards will increase, and landscapes will be changed. Sea level rise will flood coastal regions and continue to force coastal dwellers to move inland. Glacial melt contributed to 27% of a 15cm sea rise in the 20th century and the amount of water from glaciers will increase as atmospheric temperature continues to rise and cause melting. While many view glacial melting as having a positive effect on large order streams, the water level actually only rises for a short time. If glaciers continue to melt, people who live in the high regions of watersheds and rely on glacial melt water will no longer have resources to irrigate their fields or produce energy through hydroelectric power. Futher, natural hazards continue to increase as unstable lakes form from melt water at the bottom of glaciers. A small disturbance causes the glacial till to break free producing rock slides, mudslides, and flooding downhill. As a result of changing landscapes due to glaciers disappearing, economic and cultural losses are occurring because of loss of tourism and aesthetic beauty.

In order to promote change and try to adapt to the changing environment, many different methods have been attempted. Before and after pictures provide an excellent tool to promote awareness of glacial melting. As an adaptation to the melting glaciers, many resorts in the Alps spread foam or cloth coverings on glaciers to protect them during the summer which helps to promote skiing during colder months. In British Columbia artificial snow is used or snow from higher elevations is often pushed down slope to supplement snow at lower elevations. This movement of snow causes ice to be depleted from higher elevations and melt more quickly because it was moved to a warmer temperature. The National Ski Association is using a less effective method to help reduce the problem of melting glaciers. They are currently offering discounts for customers who carpool or purchase carbon offsets. While this is only making an infinitesimal impact, it is raising awareness and benefits for putting less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Glaciers are only a fraction of the earth that are being effected negatively by climate change and any reduction in carbon dioxide, however small it may seem, could help to reduce their disappearance.

1 comment:

  1. It is time to visit Glacier National Park while there are still glaciers there! (me included)