As Minsters Meet at Climate Talks, Reports of Massive Glacier Melting Pour In


Small debris-free plateau glacier with glacier lakes at Gangrinchemzoe Pass at 5,200 m, south of the main Himalayan divide, Bhutan. Photo via USGS

The voices for climate action come from everywhere. This weekend both the Dalai Lama, at a speech in India, and scientists publishing a paper in Nature, brought the world's attention to the melting of the earth's glaciers, a reality that is dramatically changing landscapes and threatening millions who depend on glaciers for fresh water.

In India, the Dalai Lama, at the centenary celebrations of India's former President R. Venkataraman, said that "since millions of Indians use water coming from the Himalayan glacier, so you have certain right to show your concern about ecology of that plateau."

The glaciers in the Himalayas feed the Ganges and the Indus rivers. More than a third of the world's population calls India and China home. The US Geological Survey released a report in 2010 on the state of glacier retreat in the Himalaya and the USGS said, "Many of Asia's glaciers are retreating as a result of climate change. This retreat impacts water supplies to millions of people, increases the likelihood of outburst floods that threaten life and property in nearby areas, and contributes to sea level rise."

Meanwhile, scientists have published a paper concerning the glaciers on the other side of the world, in Patagonia. The scientists looked as far back as the Little Ice Age, which ran from the 16th to the 19th centuries, and compared the glaciers to today's levels.
An abstract is below, and the findings are frightening.

Glaciers in the Patagonian Icefields of South America are thought to have contributed about 10% of the total sea-level rise attributable to mountain glaciers in the past 50 years3. However, it is unclear whether recent rates of glacier recession in Patagonia are unusual relative to the past few centuries. Here we reconstruct the recession of these glaciers using remote sensing and field determinations of trimline and terminal moraine location. We estimate that the North Patagonian Icefield has lost 103±20.7 km3 of ice since its late Holocene peak extent in AD 1870 and that the South Patagonian Icefield has lost 503±101.1 km3 since its peak in AD 1650. This equates to a sea-level contribution of 0.0018±0.0004 mm yr−1 since 1870 from the north and 0.0034±0.0007 mm yr−1 since 1650 from the south. The centennial rates of sea-level contribution we derive are one order of magnitude lower than estimates of melting over the past 50 years3, even when we account for possible thinning above the trimline. We conclude that the melt rate and sea-level contribution of the Patagonian Icefields increased markedly in the twentieth century.

Ministers are meeting now in Bangkok at a UN climate negotiation meeting. Let's hope they are listening to the Dalai Lama and the scientists in Nature.

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