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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Glaciers: What happens when we let them melt?

We will start to blog some updates from material we gather on our recent trip to Calgary and the Canadian Rockies.  What an incredible feeling to stand on mountain tops and glaciers.  

We start (and thanks to Ann Marie, one of the great spiritualist and researchers in the world) with quantifying the impact of declining glaciers.  What is really intriguing are the steps that have been taken world wide to try and slow their retreat.  Pretty amazing stuff.

Let us know what you think:

"The continued retreat of glaciers will have a number of different quantitative impacts. In areas that are heavily dependent on water runoff from glaciers that melt during the warmer summer months, a continuation of the current retreat will eventually deplete the glacial ice and substantially reduce or eliminate runoff. A reduction in runoff will affect the ability to irrigate crops and will reduce summer stream flows necessary to keep dams and reservoirs replenished. This situation is particularly acute for irrigation in South America, where numerous artificial lakes are filled almost exclusively by glacial melt.[108] Central Asian countries have also been historically dependent on the seasonal glacier melt water for irrigation and drinking supplies. In Norway, the Alps, and the Pacific Northwest of North America, glacier runoff is important for hydropower.

Some of this retreat has resulted in efforts to slow down the loss of glaciers in the Alps. To retard melting of the glaciers used by certain Austrian ski resorts, portions of the Stubai and Pitztal Glaciers were partially covered with plastic.[109] In Switzerland plastic sheeting is also used to reduce the melt of glacial ice used as ski slopes.[110] While covering glaciers with plastic sheeting may prove advantageous to ski resorts on a small scale, this practice is not expected to be economically practical on a much larger scale.

Many species of freshwater and saltwater plants and animals are dependent on glacier-fed waters to ensure the cold water habitat to which they have adapted. Some species of freshwater fish need cold water to survive and to reproduce, and this is especially true with salmon and cutthroat trout. Reduced glacial runoff can lead to insufficient stream flow to allow these species to thrive.

 Alterations to the ocean currents, due to increased freshwater inputs from glacier melt, and the potential alterations to thermohaline circulation of the World Ocean, may impact existing fisheries upon which humans depend as well.[111]

The potential for major sea level rise depends mostly on a significant melting of the polar ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica, as this is where the vast majority of glacial ice is located. If all the ice on the polar ice caps were to melt away, the oceans of the world would rise an estimated 70 m (230 ft). Although previously it was thought that the polar ice caps were not contributing heavily to sea level rise (IPCC 2007), recent studies have confirmed that both Antarctica and Greenland are contributing 0.5 millimetres (0.020 in) a year each to global sea level rise.[112][113][114] The fact that the IPCC estimates did not include rapid ice sheet decay into their sea level predictions makes it difficult to ascertain a plausible estimate for sea level rise but recent studies find that the minimum sea level rise will be around 0.8 metres (2.6 ft) by 2100.[115]"

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