New research reveals glaciers are melting faster than expected – here’s what’s at stake in the fight against climate change

Over the past decade, mounting evidence of human-induced climate change has become, if anything, more apparent. While there has been some progress between nations’ ongoing efforts to slow the current rate of global warming, particularly through the goals set in the Paris Climate Agreement of limiting warming to 1.5˚C, curbing the most extreme of weather phenomena battering many regions throughout the world today – such as wildfires, heatwaves, excessive precipitation, and rising sea levels – has proven to be immensely challenging.

Now, newly published scientific evidence may have indicated yet another hurdle in the push against climate change.

A recent study by British scientific journal Nature has found that glaciers are melting at two times the rate most climate experts have predicted over the past two decades, adding that glaciers “distinct from Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets” are shrinking rapidly and are on track to cause a sea level rise of more than a foot by the end of the century.

Prior to these findings, another study by Nature and an international group of 89 polar scientists in March last year found ice sheets in the Antarctic and Greenland were losing ice six times faster than they were during the 1990s. Should such a trend continue, the regions would be on course for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “worst-case” scenario of 6.7 inches (17 centimeters) in sea level rise by 2100. These comprehensive observations were supported by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA.

Between 2000 to 2019, the estimated average rate of glacier melt accelerated from 0.36 meters per year to 0.69 per year. Melting glaciers have also driven 21 percent of sea level rise since 2000, with the most rapid surges taking place in Alaska, western Canada, the United States, and New Zealand, where glaciers have melted seven times faster between 2015 and 2019 compared to the start of the 21st century. 

As glaciers are typically located in remote or inaccessible areas, obtaining precise measurements of glacier mass loss is a rather difficult process, according to the authors. There are a total of 200,000 glaciers and ice caps scattered across the planet today, and of these glaciers, only a few hundred of these are routinely measured.

According to scientists, the increased reduction of glaciers around the world is one of the most direct and observable consequences of global warming and evidence of the escalating climate threat. Our planet’s climate is warming at a much faster rate than previously predicted. In order to avert a widespread and catastrophic climate crisis, there is no better time to act than the present.      

To learn more about the long-term risks of climate change and what actions you can take right now, visit the WWF’s page on global warming here.  

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