Before and After Photos Show Dramatic Retreat of Glaciers

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©. GSA Today

Earth is losing ice. The instances of glacial retreat far exceed those of advance, note the authors of a report published by the Geological Society of America.

Melting glaciers can be a pretty abstract thing. In fact, climate change in general can be a pretty abstract thing. As noted in Lloyd's post about Americans thinking that climate change is happening – just not to them: "Because climate change is a statistical phenomenon that cannot be experienced directly, it presents a unique challenge for the human brain."

And thus a unique challenge as well for scientists who work to convey the urgency of the issues at hand; which is why a group of experts in the field have put together this report with before and after photographs showing the loss of ice across Earth's surface, an almost assured consequence of anthropogenic carbon emissions, they note. "One cannot dismiss it – the photographs don't lie. The real problem for geoscientists is what we are going to do about, when much of our science and society lies intertwined with fossil fuels."

Because not many of us have the opportunity to see glaciers in the wild, it is difficult for us to recognize the scope of the issue. The authors – Patrick Burkhart, Richard Alley, Lonnie. Thompson, James Balog, Paul E. Baldauf, and Gregory S. Baker – hope to change that by showing easy-to-understand evidence. As geoscience educators, they hope to present the best scholarship "as accurately and eloquently as we can, to address the core challenge of conveying the magnitude of anthropogenic impacts, while also encouraging optimistic determination on the part of students, coupled to an increasingly informed citizenry."

"Let us endeavor to tell the story better," they say.

Ice loss

© (A–H) James Balog and the Extreme Ice Survey; (I–J) Lonnie Thompson

(A–B) Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska, retreat of ~550 m from 2007 to 2015. (C–D) Solheimajokull, Iceland, retreat of ~625 m from 2007 to 2015. (E–F) Stein Glacier, Switzerland, retreat of ~550 m from 2006 to 2015. (G–H) Trift Glacier, Switzerland, retreat of ~1.17 km from 2006 to 2015. (I–J) Qori Kalis Glacier, an outlet of the Quelccaya Ice Cap, Peru, retreat of ~1.14 km from 1978 to 2016.

The authors note that the rapid retreat of glaciers is characteristic across the planet. The implications include rising sea level and decreased water in areas with melt-water fed resources, among other threats. And the retreat of the glaciers is due "to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases released by the combustion of fossil fuels," they explain.

"We assert that understanding human perturbation of nature, then choosing to engage in thoughtful science-based decision-making, is a wise choice," they conclude. "The rate at which glaciers are retreating provides one of the clearest indications that time is of the essence if human impacts are to be limited."

Read the whole report here: Savor the Cryosphere