The world’s glaciers are melting at record levels new report shows.

A disturbing report from the UN Environment Programme yesterday confirmed that the world’s glaciers continue to show evidence of melting with latest figures showing record losses.

The World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), a centre based at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and that is supported by UNEP released the findings that data from close to 30 reference glaciers in nine mountain ranges indicate that between the years 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 the average rate of melting and thinning more than doubled. The readers to this log can view the data at the following link.

Prof. Dr. Wilfried Haeberli, Director of the Service was quoted as saying:

“The latest figures are part of what appears to be an accelerating trend with no apparent end in sight. This continues the trend in accelerated ice loss during the past two and a half decades and brings the total loss since 1980 to more than 10.5 metres of water equivalent,” said Professor Haberli. During 1980-1999, average loss rates had been 0.3 metres per year. Since the turn of the millennium, this rate had increased to about half a metre per year.”

The shrinkage is measured in water equivalents and the disturbing thing about the loss is that people depend on the water from the glaciers and if losses continue water shortages will ensue that will pose a challenge to these populations. It has been said that the world’s rising food prices will cause mass migration of populations but the water shortages caused by the retreat of the glaciers could lead to similar migration pressures.

In fact, Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, is quoted in the UN release as saying:

“Millions if not billions of people depend directly or indirectly on these natural water storage facilities for drinking water, agriculture, industry and power generation during key parts of the year. There are many canaries emerging in the climate change coal mine. The glaciers are perhaps among those making the most noise and it is absolutely essential that everyone sits up and takes notice.”

Dramatic shrinking of Norway’s Breidalblikkbrea glacier shows thinning by close to 3.1 metres (2.9 metre water equivalent) during 2006 compared with a thinning of 0.3 metres (0.28 metres water equivalent) in the year 2005.


The potential impact of climate change on glaciers have dire ramifications for the populations that depend on them. To understand what this could mean let us look at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in the Global Outlook for Ice and Snow released on June 4 last year and its assessment of risk involved with glacial melting:

“Heavily glaciated areas like Argentina and Chile’s Patagonia region and the St Elias Mountains in Alaska could see the collapse of these ice bodies.

The formation of lakes as a result of melting glacier and the risks of glacial lake outburst floods or GLOFs is also highlighted. Such lakes have potential to release up to 100 million cubic metres of water at speeds of up to 10,000 metres a second down vulnerable valleys.


Mountain regions at risk include the Himalayas, Tien Shan and the Pamirs of Tajikistan but also the Andes and the European Alps.

Meanwhile in Asia the melting of glaciers would affect the Himalayas-Hindu Kush, Kunlun Shan, Pamir and Tien Shanan mountain regions.


These glaciers could shrink by between just over 40 per and up to around 80 per cent by 2100 under current climate models with some mountain ranges completely devoid of glacial coverage.


Rivers at risk include the Syr Darya, Amu Darya, Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Yangtze and Huang He or Yellow river where some 1.3 billion people could be at increased risk of water shortages and many more at risk of losing irrigation water for crops as well as disruptions to industry and power generation.”

From just some of these potential impacts of the increased melting of glaciers, it is obvious that many millions of the world’s population will be affected from the resulting climate changes that the loss of these important sources of water will mean. The ability to grow food crops will decline and impact poverty even further. The data shows the world that the problem is an urgent one, needing political action sooner rather than later to protect the lives and livelihood of hundreds of millions if not billions of people influenced by the glacial losses linked to climate change.

For those who may be interested, The Guardian has some great pictures of glaciers around the world. You can view them at this link.

And from The Guardian also a video about glaciers in Patagonia here.



~ by abstraktbiblos on Monday, 17 March, 2008.

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