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Glaciers Melting: How It Affects Climate Change

Updated: May 8

Dr. Heïdi Sevestre states, “Glaciers are the best climate barometers on our planet.” They are natural water towers, a wildlife home, and maintain temperatures. However, due to climate change, the melting of these glaciers is increasing, as “every ton of CO2 released into the atmosphere increases Earth temperatures and melts glaciers.”


In this podcast series, Zach (host) and Dr. Heïdi Sevestre, a glaciologist based in Svalbard, where the Global Seed Vault is located, talk about climate change, glacier melting effects, and many more.


Let’s get started together!


What are Glaciers?


What are glaciers



Glaciers are huge bodies of ice, snow, rock, and sediment, while ice sheets become as big as a continent. In the world, you’ll see two ice sheets: the Greenland Ice sheet, and the Antarctic ice sheet. Both ice sheet formations are the same; over hundreds of years, snow layers are built up and compacted into ice.


The oldest glacier or “River of Ice” in Antarctica may be 1 million years old. Do you know most of the world’s glaciers are found in polar regions, like Greenland, Alaska, South America, and New Zealand?


But as per USGS, 91% of glaciers are found in Antarctica. They formed on land and made up of fallen snow which has been compressed into ice over many centuries. After that, move slowly downward by the gravity pressure.


Are you excited to explore the importance of glaciers on Earth? Check out the next section now!


Why Care About Glaciers?


As per Glaciologists, glaciers are the keystone of life on Earth. This bright white ice acts as a protective cover over the Earth and oceans and keeps our planet cooler. It is the most precious natural resource which provides us:


Drinking water: Glaciers hold 68.7% of Earth's total freshwater. People living in arid climates near mountains rely on glacial melt for water. In South America, residents of La Paz, Bolivia, and many other Asian continents rely on this water during dry periods.

Irrigate crops: In Switzerland's Rhone Valley, farmers irrigated crops using meltwater from glaciers.


  • Nutrients: Glacier melt delivers nutrients into lakes, rivers, and oceans, which help balance ecosystems for animals and plants (phytoplankton). Phytoplankton are the key to aquatic and marine food chains.

  • Generate hydroelectric power: Scientists and engineers have worked together to generate electricity and tap into glacial resources by damming glacial meltwater.

  • Climate Regulation: Glaciers' surfaces reflect excess heat into space, help to cool our planet, and maintain colder temperatures in the Arctic.

  • Fluvial Transport: "Fluvioglacial" means erosion or deposition caused by flowing meltwater from glaciers melting. The process is important for the physical interactions between flowing water and natural channels, i.e., rivers and streams.

Difference Between Sea ice and Glaciers


Generally, sea ice is frozen ocean water that is formed, grows, and melts on the ocean. On the contrary, glaciers are formed on land. Here’s the breakdown of the key difference!


Formation


  • Sea ice: It is formed from the freezing of salt water.

  • Glacier: It is formed over long periods by the accumulation and compaction of snow.


Thickness and permanence


  • Sea ice: It is relatively thin, a few meters thick. It expands and shrinks seasonally.

  • Glaciers: Much thicker and more permanent than sea ice; reach kilometers in thickness.


What are the Reasons Of Glaciers' Ice Melting?


The reasons of glaciers ice melting

The reasons for glaciers’ ice melting are due to rising global temperatures and permafrost melting, which is caused by human activities, such as:

The burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and industrial processes release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.


 The warm atmosphere raises air temperature around glaciers and increases melting.

Oceans absorb a significant amount of Earth’s heat and melt glaciers.


Ice and snow are highly reflective and bounce sunlight back into space, and many more.


How Melting Glaciers Affect Humans and Wildlife?


Climate change's impact on our planet causes extreme flooding and storm events, unprecedented drought, blistering heatwaves, and many other disasters. As per IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), the global surface temperature has increased day after day.


Permafrost melting is another reason for global warming, greenhouse gas emissions, and so on. Let's check out the key effects of melting glaciers below:


Affect on Human Life


  • Rising sea levels & permafrost melting: If all the glaciers disappear from the planet, it would increase sea levels globally by 65 meters or 280 feet. This will affect coastal areas, displacing communities, destroy infrastructure, and be a reason for flooding.

  • Water scarcity: Glaciers are natural giant reservoirs for storing freshwater during winter and releasing it in the warmer seasons. Melting glaciers might lead to water shortages downstream, and impact agriculture, drinking water, and hydropower generation.

  • Loss of cultural heritage: Glaciers are often culturally significant landmarks for local communities, and melting can threaten this identity.


Affect on Wildlife


From the polar bears to the Siberian ibex, endangered snow leopards and many other animal habitats are closely linked to glaciers. The melting has a devastating impact on wildlife, too, such as:


  • Habitat loss: Melting glaciers disrupt habitats and force animals to relocate or face extinction.

  • Disrupt food chains: The loss or melting of glaciers affects freshwater availability and disrupts food chains in aquatic ecosystems.

  • Migration: Glaciers play an important role in the migration patterns of some animals that make it difficult to find food and breeding grounds.

  • Ocean acidification: Melting glaciers can be a reason for ocean acidification that destroys marine life, like shellfish and organisms that build calcium carbonate shells.


Our planet keeps getting warmer and has increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius since the pre-industrial revolution. This sounds like a tiny temperature increase, but not like that.


A minimum of a 1-degree temperature increase will impact the glacier melting. NASA predicts that if we don’t make changes around the world, the global temperature will rise by 4.5 degrees Celsius in 2100.


How We Protect Glacier Melting?


Glacier melting is a serious consequence of global warming, and to address this issue, we need to take steps like:


  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions: We need to reduce our use of fossil fuels and implement energy-conserving practices. For this, we can use public transport, conserve electricity at home, and more.

  • Reduce carbon footprint: We need to be mindful of reusing or recycling to minimize waste. Buy less stuff, repair, and reuse to reduce the need for virgin materials.

  • Plant trees: Forests are natural carbon sinks. Support reforestation efforts or plant trees.

  • Spread awareness: To stabilize our planet’s temperature, talk to friends and families about the importance of glaciers.


Wrap Up


At the end of this episode, Glaciers Melting: How It Affects Climate Change, we learned that melting and ice loss impact human and wildlife existence. We need to raise awareness to protect this natural resource and save our planet.

  

There are many ways to make a difference. So, let’s save the planet and rely on recycling, plant more trees, study global warming, and many more to fight against climate change.

Stay tuned to me at We the Children for other climate change podcasts!



Why Care About Glaciers?



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