...Since the 1970sGlaciers are kind of the canary in the coal mine for global warming. Studying them can give us a lot of information about long-term temperature trends, and most of what glaciologists are seeing is not very good. A recent study published in Cryosphere (awesome name for a scientific journal!) reports that glaciers in the tropical Andes, in South-America, are shrinking at the fastest rate in the past 300 years, and that just since the 1970s, they've shrunk by an average of 30-50%. Glaciers aren't just pretty to look at, they provide fresh water for hundreds of millions around the globe (if not billions) and regulated ecosystems, so their disappearance is very alarming.
The melting is caused by a rise in the average temperature of 0.7C from 1950-1994, and not by a change in precipitation. The BBC writes:
The authors report that glaciers are retreating everywhere in the tropical Andes, but the melting is more pronounced for small glaciers at low altitudes.
Glaciers at altitudes below 5,400m have lost about 1.35m in ice thickness per year since the late 1970s, twice the rate of the larger, high-altitude glaciers.
"Because the maximum thickness of these small, low-altitude glaciers rarely exceeds 40 metres, with such an annual loss they will probably completely disappear within the coming decades," said lead author Antoine Rabatel, from the Laboratory for Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics in Grenoble, France. (source)
This is yet one more reason why we must deal with global warming and stop playing games with our planet's atmosphere. It can only end badly, and the longer we wait to act, the worse it'll be.