Historic and current photographs of glacial areas published by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are factual evidence of the disappearance of many of the glaciers of the U.S. and other countries.
Glaciers are tremendous sources of energy due to their massive size and weight, and have carved out valleys and riverbeds for millions of years. They continue their slow trek through some regions today.
The world’s glaciers have always been moving and melting, as gravity exerts its influence on the massive flows of ice. As they approach warmer temperatures or bodies of water, the result is melting and large chunks of ice separating and falling into the water, known as “ice calving.”
But glaciers appear to be melting at an increasing pace, as the earth’s crust warms with climate change. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) provides daily satellite views of arctic regions, and maintains a database of the world’s glaciers, comprised of information on over 130,000 glaciers. These graphics and photos demonstrate proof of the reduction in the world’s glacial and arctic ice.
What Makes Glaciers Change?
Although most glaciers move very slowly due to their weight and sheer volume, the range of movement can vary at the bottom of the glacier than that on the surface. This is due to differences in temperature between the top and bottom, as well as friction that slows bottom movement, and other factors.
Glaciers naturally experience periods of surge (forward motion) and retreat (backward motion of the glacier’s terminus). This is dependent on air temperatures as well as snow accumulation and ice melt from natural evaporation. Speed of motion can range significantly, with some glaciers having periods of relative rapid motion – possibly as much as several meters in a day.
Alaska’s Hubbard Glacier was measured as moving 10 meters/day during a period in 1986, actually damming a fjord, resulting in the formation of a lake.
This movement is a natural occurrence, but thawing glaciers that retreat significantly, as scientists have been monitoring for the past few decades, generate concerns for environmentalists and conservation groups.
Are Glaciers Disappearing?
Muir Glacier in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park is one significant evidence of thawing glaciers, having retreated by 7 miles between 1941 and 2004 alone, while reducing in thickness by over 2,600 feet.
Researchers from the USGS Global Change Research Program have been measuring glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park for a decade. Their findings strike fear into the hearts of climate change scientists. In 1910, the park hosted approximately 150 glaciers, while today that count is a mere 30. The team predicts that over the next 30 years, the glaciers will have all but disappeared from the park.
U.S. glaciers are far from the only concern.
- Nearly half of the glaciers in the Alps have vanished since record-keeping began. Even the famous Matterhorn demonstrates the phenomenon of the thawing glaciers. Europe has in fact been one of the hardest hit regions for loss of glacial ice.
- Satellite views and measurements indicate considerable loss of ice mass in the majestic Himalayas. These ice sources provide the region with some of their largest rivers, generating concern for Chinese officials. Ice thickness has reduced by 3 feet in the past decade, twice the rate of the prior decade.
- Even Greenland, known for its icy terrain, has observed an extreme reduction in the Helheim Glacier since the year 2000, where it had remained intact for many decades.
What is Behind the Thawing Glaciers?
There is now indisputable evidence that the Earth’s crust has been warming over the decades, along with gradual rises in ocean and air temperatures. But what’s at the root of this phenomenon?
Our atmosphere is a delicate balance of the radiation of heat from the Earth’s crust into the air (and eventually into space) and the absorption of heat from the sun that provides warmth. Disturbing this natural “dance” of natural processes can wreak havoc for our natural resources, including glacial ice.
Climate change may be inevitable to some extent, but humankind has exacerbated the problem through our industrial revolution that spewed toxic gasses in the way of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in ever-increasing volumes. Our internal combustion engines continue to spew pollutants into the atmosphere faster than the Earth can absorb then through natural processes.
Accelerating climate change – rising oceans, gradually increasing temperatures, and yes – thawing glaciers.
We Can Reverse Climate Change
We may never be able to reverse the ice melt conditions that have already taken place, but with global effort and conviction, the causes of manmade climate change can be curbed or eliminated. It takes commitment from the world’s leadership and population to shoulder the responsibility, but the result is obviously worthwhile:
- Cleaner air
- Better use of natural resources
- Cleaner, alternative energy sources
- Retention of our environment – air, land, and water
The time to get started is now.