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article imageGlacier ice loss has reached the 'point of no return'

By Karen Graham     Mar 19, 2018 in Environment
Glacier ice loss is a key contributor to sea-level change, slope instability in high-mountain regions, and changing volumes of river flow. A new study shows that we cannot stop glacial melting in this century - no matter what we do.
The Paris Climate Agreement was signed by 195 member-states of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, with the express purpose of trying to limit the rise in global average temperature to significantly below 2°C, if possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Doing so would significantly reduce the risks of climate change and without a doubt, countries around the world are working to mitigate the effects of a warming world, turning to renewable energy and pulling away from our dependence on fossil fuels. But a question still remained unanswered.
If we are successful, what does this means for the Earth's glaciers? Climate researchers Ben Marzeion and Nicolas Champollion from the Institute of Geography at the University of Bremen and Georg Kaser and Fabien Maussion from the Institute of Atmospheric and Cryospheric Sciences at the University of Innsbruck have investigated this question and come up with some startling conclusions.
Each year  the Rhone Glacier loses between five and seven metres in ice thickness  and within the ne...
Each year, the Rhone Glacier loses between five and seven metres in ice thickness, and within the next decade it is expected to lose half of its current volume
Fabrice Coffrini, AFP
Using climate modeling and satellite imagery, as well as temperature and precipitation fields from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 output, the researchers were able to create a glacier evolution model. This allowed them to quantify future glacial mass responses to climate change.
"Melting glaciers have a huge influence on the development of sea level rise. In our calculations, we took into account all glaciers worldwide - without the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets and peripheral glaciers - and modeled them in various climate scenarios," explains Georg Kaser.
One kilogram of CO2 emitted costs 15 kilograms of glacier ice
Or, you could say 2.2 pounds of CO2 emitted costs 33 pounds of glacial ice. That's a lot of ice, regardless of how you measure it. The researchers found that an average temperature rise of 2.0 or only 1.5°C makes no significant difference in slowing glacial ice loss in this century.
Mountan guide Saul Luciano Lliuya stands at a lagoon formed under the almost disappeared ice and sno...
Mountan guide Saul Luciano Lliuya stands at a lagoon formed under the almost disappeared ice and snow mass on the Churup glacier in the Huascaran National Park in Ancash, Peru
Cris Bouroncle, AFP
"Around 36 percent of the ice still stored in glaciers today would melt even without further emissions of greenhouse gases. That means: more than a third of the glacier ice that still exists today in mountain glaciers can no longer be saved even with the most ambitious measures," says Ben Marzeion.
We are already seeing the effects of climate change on glaciers around the world. In the Himalayas of Kashmir, scientist Shakil Ahmad Romshoo fears for the future of the pristine region which relies heavily on its more than 100 glaciers for water. In 2015, Digital Journal reported two major glaciers have disappeared completely in the last 50 years, while those in a key basin have shrunk by more than 27 percent over the same period.
And in referencing a study done in 2011 on the southern Patagonian Icefields, Digital Journal pointed out that across the planet, billions of people depend on seasonal glacial meltwater, with large cities centered on such supplies. As these glaciers continue disappearing, new battles are likely to erupt over fresh water, the basic necessity of life.
A new study on glaciers in the Patagonia Icefields of South America indicates glaciers are currently...
A new study on glaciers in the Patagonia Icefields of South America indicates glaciers are currently melting at a rate faster than any other time in the last 350 years.
A glimpse of the future
Looking beyond this century, there is a difference whether the 2.0 or 1.5°C goal is achieved. "Glaciers react slowly to climatic changes. If, for example, we wanted to preserve the current volume of glacial ice, we would have to reach a temperature level from pre-industrial times, which is obviously not possible. In the past, greenhouse gas emissions have already triggered changes that can no longer be stopped. This also means that our current behavior has an impact on the long-term evolution of the glaciers - we should be aware of this," adds glaciologist Kaser.
This most interesting study, "Limited Influence of climate change mitigation on short-term glacier mass loss," was published in the journal Nature Climate Change March 19, 2018.
More about glacial mass loss, cryospheric science, earth systems modelaing, Balance, Climate change
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