This week a volcano of controversy erupted over the very icy topic of glaciers with critics attacking the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for including an incorrect reference to the disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035.
Many skeptics claim that this “glacier goof-up” somehow disproves the credibility of the IPCC as a whole and the thousands of scientists it cites in its report. And more significantly they are calling into question the overwhelming accumulation of data that proves that around 90% of the major glaciers in the world are melting... very, very quickly.
Here’s a quick reference chart that indexes average Mass Balance (loss or gain) in the cryosphere (glaciated areas) in units of ‘m w.e.’ or mass-water equivalent (i.e. the “volume” of the glacier). Glacier Mass Balance is a rigorous form of analysis that factors in a wide variety of measurements, including surface area.*
* units of mass-water equivalent measure the actual quantity of H20 by mass. Solid ice is actually only .9 m w.e. (air bubbles) and snow is significantly. So when you see the units you have to factor in that the actual depth of the glacier is much more than the depth designated in units of m w.e.
The chart is from a 2006/2007 report by the World Glacier Monitoring Service, an independent research organization which has been monitoring the world’s glaciers since 1894.
And it is very scary.
It shows the world divided into 9 quadrants and the average level of change in glacier mass for each. As is quite evident, most of the world’s cryosphere is in a process of deglaciation (red & yellow). Yes people, the world is melting.
According to the report, we have lost as much as 20% of the entire mass of glaciers on the planet since WWII. A figure that is almost impossible to comprehend, considering that most of these glaciers have been here for tens of thousands of years with relatively minor fluctuations in mass. It appears that the LIA (“Little Ice Age”) had little impact on the size of the earth's glaciers (an inconvenient truth for climate skeptics).
Researchers looking at the relationship between surface area and mass of glaciers dating back to the LIA have this to say:
The observed trend of increasingly negative mass balance over reducing glacier surface areas thus leaves no doubt about the ongoing climatic forcing resulting from the change in climate and possible enhancement mechanisms such as mass balance / altitude feedback, altered turbulent and longwave radiation fluxes due to the size and existence of rock outcrops or changes in the surface albedo (Paul et al. 2007) via UNEP.
Click on the link below to see 7 examples of glacial giants that are melting before our eyes.