1,600 years of ice in the Andes has melted in just a quarter of a century. It’s yet more evidence about climate change caused by carbon emissions, a fact that climate skeptics still deny, even as Greenland is becoming a greenhouse, the earth is the hottest it’s been in 11,000 years and the North Pole will soon be open for commercial shipping.
Last week, glaciologists from Ohio State University reported in the journal Science that 1,600 years of ice in the Andes mountains in Perus melted in a mere 25 years. The Quelccaya ice cap is the world’s largest tropical ice sheet and sits at 18,000 feet above sea level. Glaciologist Lonnie G. Thompson and his colleagues have been studying the ice cap intermittently for decades. About a quarter of a century ago, they discovered long-dead plants near a lake formed from meltwater from the glacier; chemical analysis showed that these plants were lived about 4,700 years ago, meaning that the ice cap had shrunk to its smallest in five millennia.
Further exploration has now turned up plants that had been frozen by glaciers even further back in time, about 6,300 years ago. Had the plants been exposed at “any time in the last 6,000 years … they would have decayed,” as Thompson explains in the New York Times. In just about 25 years, 1,600 years of ice has melted.
Thompson’s research is further evidence that the melting of glaciers is occurring at the fastest rate ever since the last ice age. The impact on local communities in the Andes could soon be felt: while glacial melting is causing a current increase in water supplies and leading to population growth in the region, the fact is that the glaciers are shrinking. Water supplies in cities including Lima and La Paz could eventually decline by as much as 50 percent, Douglas R. Hardy, a University of Massachusetts researcher notes to the New York Times.
It goes without saying that “glaciers will melt faster than ever and loss could be irreversible, warn scientists.” This is actually the title of a recent report from Geophysical Research Letters about glaciers elsewhere, including Canada’s Arctic Archipelago. Using computer modeling, European scientists have been studying the rate at which glaciers in Canada’s Arctic Archipelago have been melting. Their computer simulations have, as it turns out, correctly predicted the shrinking of the glaciers, due to snow melting on the tundra and sea ice loss from around them.
After Greenland and Antartica, Canada’s Arctic Archipelago glaciers are the third-largest ice body in the world. In 2000, temperatures in the Arctic Archipelago rose by 1 to 2 degrees Centigrade, the volume of ice significantly shrank and the sea level rose. Should the Canadian ice caps melt completely, the scientists predict a rise of global average sea level of 20 centimeters, or almost 8 inches.
Knowing that the World Bank has predicted that Peru’s mountaintop glaciers are melting, Peruvian activist-inventor Eduardo Gold has proposed to paint the mountaintops white to “simulate the reflective qualities of mountaintop glaciers and help slow the warming effect that ice-free mountaintops may have on the surrounding environment.” It’s a clearly outlandish idea and the Peruvian government has said it plans to channel funds to other climate adaptation projects. Given the repeated reports about climate change’s irreversible effects, one sometimes has to wonder if we may end up trying such desperate measures.
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