World's Glaciers Are
Shrinking Rapidly
Global warming is shrinking many of the world's glaciers at an alarming rate, raising the sea level, new research says.
A new University of Colorado at Boulder study says outside of Antarctica and the Greenland Ice Sheet, the rate of melt continues to accelerate. "In the last century, there has been a significant decrease in the area and volume of glaciers, especially at mid- and low-latitudes," says Professor Mark Meier of the geological sciences department. "The disappearance of glacier ice is more pronounced than we previously had thought."
The hardest hit glaciers are on Africa's Mount Kenya, which lost 92 percent of its mass in the last century, and on Mount Kilimanjaro, where glaciers have shrunk by 73 percent. The number of Spain's glaciers has dropped to 13 from 27 in 1980.
Meier reported his team's research at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Boston on Tuesday.
Researchers have collected detailed data on only a few hundred of the roughly 200,000 glaciers around the world, Meier says. But a new method of "scaling" developed by CU researchers should allow scientists to more accurately assess changes in glaciers of all sizes. Scaling involves complex algorithms to define the relationships of several characteristic glacier variables, according to the CU news bureau.
If the theory is right, Montana's Glacier National Park will have no glaciers within a hundred years, perhaps far sooner if the current climate trends continue.
"During the past several decades, ice wastage and global sea rise are moving pretty much in step," says Meier. Although the world's glaciers excluding Antarctica and Greenland make up only about 6 percent of the world's total ice mass, the water is recycled more quickly and contributes more to sea level rise than do the polar ice sheets.
The International Panel on Climate Change projected in 1996 that the world's oceans will rise by more than 18 inches by the year 2100, with a third of that contributed by glaciers and ice caps and more than half by the thermal expansion of warming waters, an indirect consequence of glacial melting.
"The rate of warming is unprecedented in the last 600 years and the retreat of glaciers is probably unprecedented too, although we do not have the figures to prove it," says Meier. "But I'm convinced there is a detectable human influence in the pattern of climate change we are seeing."

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