Almost 200,000 Glaciers mapped in global inventory baseline for study of global warming effects

Creating an inventory of global glaciers has preoccupied researchers since the International Geophysical Year 1957-58. In spite of efforts that have waxed and waned over the decades, the state of knowledge about our planet's ice flows could not support the detailed studies of shrinkage and estimates of volume needed to assess the impacts of climate change -- especially potential contributions of melting ice to sea level rise.

This image shows the Zhadang glacier south of lake Nam Tso on the nortern ridge of the Nyainqentanglha mountain range (Tibet, China)© Tino Pieczonka (TU Dresden)

Filling the gap, the Randolph Glacier Inventory (RGI) makes outlines of 198,000 glaciers available to help predict the plight of these massive fields of frozen water. The lead author of a paper describing the global glacier survey, Tad Pfeffer (with camera in image below), sums up the importance of this effort:

I don’t think anyone could make meaningful progress on projecting glacier changes if the Randolph inventory was not available.

A lot of people think that the contribution of glaciers to sea rise is insignificant when compared with the big ice sheets, but in the first several decades of the present century it is going to be this glacier reservoir that will be the primary contributor to sea rise. The real concern for city planners and coastal engineers will be in the coming decades, because 2100 is pretty far off to have to make meaningful decisions.

CU-Boulder Professor Tad Pfeffer, shown here on Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, is part of a team that has mapped nearly 200,000 individual glaciers around the world as part of an effort to track ongoing contributions to global sea rise as the planet heats up.© Photo courtesy University of Colorado

The Randolph Glacier Inventory (RGI) gets its name from Randolph, New Hampshire, where an ad hoc group met to plan the effort. which was conceived to support the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Tags: Glaciers | Global Warming Effects | Global Warming Science


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