The Glaciers Melt

Martin Leatherman,

The melting of the world’s glaciers is bringing new attention to the threat of global climate change.

One recent study published in the journal Science found that 87 percent of the 244 marine glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula have retreated over the last 50 years.

As atmospheric temperatures rose along the peninsula, glaciers moved south toward mainland Antarctica.

Now, scientists may have the valuable ocean temperature data — or “smoking gun” — they say will help them predict climate change.

According to the Associated Press, the study showed that the Earth is absorbing more energy than it is releasing.

The data were largely collected by ocean-monitoring technology and satellite images.

While glacial melting is a sign of global temperature change, there’s still a debate over whether to blame natural fluctuations or human activity.

“Are humans responsible? We can’t say for sure, but we are one step closer to answering this important question,” said David Vaughan, the scientist who authored the Antarctic Peninsula study.

According to the advocacy group World View of Global Warming, Antarctic glaciers join a long list of retreating glaciers.

Before and after photographs of shrinking glaciers around the world can be seen on the group’s Web site.

The amount of melting is often dramatic.

–According to a June 2004 NASA report, researchers estimate that Montana’s Glacier National Park’s 37 remaining glaciers may be gone in the next 25 years.

–An article published by the Union of Concerned Scientists reports, “Since 1850 the glaciers of the European Alps have lost about 30 to 40 percent of their surface area and about half of their volume.”

–The BBC reports that in the last three decades, Peruvian glaciers have lost almost a quarter of their area.

The melting is a threat to fresh water supplies there: Normally glaciers retreat during the dry season and replenish during the winter, but excessive melting has disrupted this cycle.

A satellite photo series from Jet Propulsion Laboratory shows dramatic changes in the glacier above Lake Palcacocha.

According to an April 2003 NASA report, Peruvian government officials and geologists are monitoring a large crack in the glacier that feeds the lake, located high above the city of Huaraz, 168 miles north of Lima.

If the glacier falls into the lake it would send a flood into the Rio Santa valley below, reaching the city of Huaraz and its population of 100,000 in less than 15 minutes.

Over half of the world’s population lives within 100 miles of the sea — and the effects of natural disasters on those areas would be greater when sea levels are higher.

National Geographic reported in its September 2004 “Global Warning” issue that the average temperature in Alaska has risen two to four degrees in the past 30 years, causing local sea levels to rise.

Time magazine reported that the Republic of Maldives, a series of islands off the coast of India, is threatened by rising sea levels.

For millennia the low-lying islands have depended on growing coral reefs to remain above water.

Now there are doubts that the coral can keep up with the rising sea.

Patrick Michaels, research professor of environmental studies at the University of Virginia, wrote an article on criticizing the decision to publish Science’s Antarctic study on Earth Day.

He questioned why the media was ignoring the fact, according to NASA, that Antarctica’s overall ice area had increased while the melting was localized to the northern Antarctic Peninsula.

A White House press release said that Bush administration has included $5.8 billion for climate change and energy tax incentive programs.

This figure includes nearly $3 billion for the Climate Change Technology Program, which focuses on hydrogen and zero emissions energy, and nearly $2 billion for the Climate Change Science Program, which focuses on research and global observation.

Such programs are not without controversy.

Other nations, activist groups, and scientific organizations such as the American Institute of Physics, say that technological and market-based solutions may not move quickly enough to prevent climate change and related natural disasters.

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“New study in Science find glaciers in widespread retreat on Antarctic Peninsula”

American Association for the Advancement of Science, April 21, 2005

“Experts, new data show global warming”
San Francisco Chronicle, April 28, 2005

“Ice under fire”
World View of Global Warming, 2005

“Sizing up Earth’s glaciers”
NASA, June 22, 2004

“Early warning signs: Glaciers melting”
Union of Concerned Scientists

“Melting glaciers threaten Peru”
BBC, October 9, 2003

“Peril in Peru? NASA takes a look at menacing glacier”
NASA, April 11, 2003

“Huaraz, Peru” — Palcococha Glacier photos
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, September 7, 2004

“Global warming fast facts”
National Geographic, December 6, 2004

Maldives — Where the waters are rising
Time, April 25

“Tip of the Iceberg”
Tech Central Station, April 25, 2005

“Bush Administration’s actions on global climate”
White House press release, November 19, 2004

“Administration priorities for climate change technology questioned”
American Institute for Physics, November 19, 2003

“U.S. climate negotiators justify Bush position to the world”
Environment News Service, December 9, 2004

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