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Why are Glaciers Melting and How are We Responsible for This?

Why Are Glaciers Melting?
Glaciers are melting much faster today than they were a hundred years ago. The main culprit is thought to be global warming caused by the industrial revolution of the past century.
Kevin Mathias
Last Updated: Jan 24, 2018
Melting Concern
According to results given out by the World Glacier Monitoring Service, the UN Environment Programme declared that glaciers around the world are melting rapidly. In fact, data analyzed between 2004-05 and 2005-06 revealed that the average rate of melting and thinning of ice had more than doubled!
Glaciers are seen all round the year in Alaska, Western US, mountains of Asia and Europe, etc. When temperatures get warmer, glaciers tend to start melting. But if you want to find the reasons for melting glaciers in depth, then it is said that unreasonable CO2 emissions from fossil fuels -- much more than what the oceans and forests can take up -- is the actual reason. Increased CO2 expelling alters the green house effect, in turn making the earth warmer, with the result that glaciers are melting.

What is a Glacier?
A glacier can be described as a huge block of ice that has formed from falling snow. Glaciers contain almost all the freshwater present on earth.

How is a Glacier Formed?
Glaciers are formed in places where the temperatures are extremely cold. This could even include places that are at sea level, but are mostly places that are high up on mountains.

In such cold places it snows most of the year. This snow will settle down, and when it snows again the lower layer of snow gets compressed. Every time it snows, the below layers will compress more, finally turning into hard ice. This ice is what forms the glacier.

When the temperature rises slightly, the outer edges of the formed glacier and fresh snow will melt. For a glacier to form and sustain itself, it is of prime importance that the amount of snow that falls on it must be more than the amount of glacier that has melted. This is the only way in which the glacier will be able to maintain itself and keep increasing in size year after year.

Is Glacier Melting Normal?

Melting of glaciers is perfectly normal. The only criterion is that falling snow must exceed the melting ice to sustain the glacier. Many people worldwide depend on melting glaciers for survival. All their freshwater needs are met by these melting glaciers through the year. This is the water these people use for drinking and irrigation. If this source of freshwater were to stop, it will create chaos. People will be forced to shift to places with other sources of freshwater. Certain nations depend a lot on the flow of this water for the production of electricity.

Glaciers Are Melting Faster Today

It has been noticed that glaciers have melted more than normal over the past century. It was argued in the past that this was a normal process that takes place over time, but this is now being proved wrong. Many glaciers have melted so fast over the past few decades that they have vanished from the face of the earth forever. Many glaciers that remain are today facing the same fate. They are reducing in size year after year because the falling snow is not able to replace the amount of melting ice.

Why are Glaciers Melting Faster Today?

Today, glaciers are receding faster as compared to the past many centuries. Why this sudden change? Almost everyone believe that the prime reason for this is sudden and rapid industrialization which in turn has caused global warming -- the prime culprit of fast-melting glaciers.

Global warming is the rise in average global temperature that has happened over the past century. The 'industrial revolution' is the main cause of this rise in average temperature.

  • The indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels has resulted in extreme atmospheric pollution leading to this condition.
  • Coal is still burnt in huge quantities for various reasons such as electricity production.
  • Burning of oil is a major culprit in the past century.
  • Deforestation has increased to procure wood and make more space available for farming, resulting in an increase in carbon dioxide concentrations.

All these pollutants help in trapping more heat in the earth's atmosphere, increasing global temperatures.

It is due to this increase in temperature that glaciers are melting more than they actually should. When a glacier melts fully, it exposes the earth below. Glaciers absorb approximately 20% heat from the sun, reflecting back 80%. When the earth gets exposed, this percentage gets reversed. This in turn causes a further increase in temperature. This is a vicious trap which has already begun and it will be almost impossible for us to stop it totally.

In the future, the global temperature will, in all likelihood, keep increasing, melting glaciers even faster than they are today.

Dangers of Fast-melting Glaciers
  • Faster than normal melting glaciers will cause the streams and rivers to overflow causing flooding. This is a reality that many places have and are currently facing. Those living in proximity to these rivers will need to relocate.
  • Farmlands get destroyed in these flood waters. Higher up on mountains, this excess water creates new ponds. As these ponds keep getting filled with more water they form lakes with the pressure on the boundaries increasing. There is always a threat of these lakes bursting, causing huge floods in villages situated below.
  • Once the glacier has totally melted, the streams and rivers will run dry. Farmland will turn dry. Those depending on freshwater from the melting glacier will have to relocate.
  • Places that depend on the constant flow of this water for the production of electricity will have to look for other sources to produce electricity. This will cause further atmospheric pollution and cost much more to produce.
  • Sea levels that have already risen due to warmer waters will rise even further when all this water from melting glaciers empty into the sea. The immediate risk will be to those living in low-lying areas in close vicinity to seashores. These areas will get flooded and sweet groundwater will get polluted with seawater, making it unfit for human use. All these people will have to relocate, too.
  • Many animals, birds, and fish that depend on the freshwater from glaciers that empty directly into the sea will become endangered. Corals will suffer because of low sunlight due to increasing sea levels. Fish feeding on these corals will in turn get affected. Animals and birds feeding on these fish will be affected. 
Rattling Statistics 
  • With the rapid rate of melting glaciers at Arctic, it is estimated that by 2040, the region will become ice-free, if the melting trend stays.
  • With the earth getting warmer, Antarctica, too, has seen a steep rise in the annual average temperature by about 2.5°C over the last 50 years. This, in turn, has led to a rise in the sea levels by 0.4 mm/year.
  • Apart from the Arctic and Antarctic regions, the Himalayan glaciers are also impacted by the change in the environmental temperature. Supposedly, the Gangotri glacier is shriveling up at a rate of 17 m/year, while glacier Pindari is reducing at around 10 m/year.
  • According to NASA, each year, Greenland is shedding off about 100 billion tons of land ice.
  • Mt. Kilimanjaro, located in Tanzania, has also lost some of its ice cover, thus being another victim of global warming. According to Lonnie Thompson, a glaciologist at Ohio State University, this glacier has lost 26% of the ice since 2000.
  • In Europe, the Swiss glaciers have receded by a huge 12% over the last 10 years. The year 2003 was the worst hit, with an alarming 3.5% reduction in ice cover.

There are many more dangers that could crop up due to fast-melting glaciers in the coming years, if we do not do something to reduce the menace of global warming immediately. Each one of us can play a part in helping reduce harmful emissions, leading to a possible reduction in future global warming.
Blue Ice
Blue Glacier Melting
Jokulsarlon In Iceland
Iceberg On Ocean
Broken Ice From A Glacier
Calving Glacier
Calving Glacier
Dawes Glacier Calving
Icebergs With Volcanic Ash
Tracy Arm Fjord Glacier
Icebergs floating in Jokulsarlon glacier lake at sunset
Falling Down Glacier
Falling Ice
Glacier Carving
Icebergs at the Glacier lagoon of J?kulsarlon Iceland
Ice falling from a glacier into the water
Northwestern Glacier Calving
Glacier Calving Natural Phenomenon
Dawes Glacier Alaska