UN warns of mountain meltdown

Posted by Laura Grant on March 17, 2008
Posted in Green News

Mount Cerro Torres, Argentina. Photograph © Peter Zaharov, iStockphoto.com The average rate of melting and thinning in 30 mountain glaciers located in nine mountain ranges around the world doubled between 2004 and 2006, the UN Environment Programme said yesterday.

Switzerland’s World Glacier Monitoring Service has been tracking glaciers for more than a century. Its director, Dr Wilfried Haeberli, said: “The latest figures are part of what appears to be an accelerating trend with no apparent end in sight”.

Achim Steiner, UNEP’s executive director, said: “Millions if not billions of people depend directly or indirectly on these natural water storage facilities for drinking water, agriculture, industry and power generation during key parts of the year,” said. “There are many canaries emerging in the climate change coal mine. The glaciers are perhaps among those making the most noise and it is absolutely essential that everyone sits up and takes notice,” he said.
Photograph: Mount Cerro Torre, Argentina © Peter Zaharov, iStockphoto.com

The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, published in 2007, outlines the potential impact of melting glaciers. Unep lists some of the main impacts as follows:

HIMALAYAS – Many glaciers in these areas could, at current rates of global warming, disappear within the coming decades. Half a billion people in the Himalaya-Hindu-Kush region and a quarter of a billion downstream who rely on glacial melt waters could be seriously affected. The current trends in glacial melt suggest that the Ganga, Indus, Brahmaputra and other rivers that criss-cross the northern Indian plain may become seasonal rivers in the near future as a consequence of climate change.

NORTH AMERICA – “Heavily-utilised water systems of the western US and Canada, such as the Columbia River, that rely on capturing snowmelt runoff will be especially vulnerable.” A two degree C warming by the 2040s is likely to lead to sharply reduced summer flows coinciding with sharply rising demand. The report estimates that Portland, Oregon will by then require over 26 million additional cubic meters of water as a result of climate change and population growth. Just over 40 percent of the supply to southern California is likely to be vulnerable by the 2020s due to warming triggering losses of the Sierra Nevada and Colorado River basin snow pack.

LATIN AMERICA – The glacier retreat trend is reaching critical conditions in Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. Recent studies indicate that most of the South American glaciers from Colombia to Chile and Argentina (up to 25ºS) are drastically reducing their volume at an accelerated rate. Changes in temperature and humidity are the primary cause for the observed glacier retreat during the 2nd half of the 20th century in the tropical Andes. In the next 15 years inter-tropical glaciers are very likely to disappear, affecting water availability and hydropower generation.

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