Glacial retreat is a natural phenomenon that has sped up due to climate change in the recent decade. Current research on Himalayan glaciers demonstrates that topography and climate play a major role in determining the variations in retreat rate and mass balance in various mountain range sections. Read here to learn about the causes, effects, and solutions for the glacial retreat.
Massive amounts of ice that are moving slowly downhill make up the glaciers. A glacier develops anywhere snow falls faster than it melts. As melting overcomes accretion, the glacier retreats, resulting in the glacier tongue’s terminal edge terminating at progressively higher altitudes.
The bulk of mountain (alpine) glaciers on Earth have been retreating since about 1850. While the vast ice-sheet glaciers along the coasts of Greenland and the West Antarctic Peninsula have accelerated their flow to the sea, Alpine glaciers have recently accelerated their retreat.
Today, about 10% of the land area on Earth is covered with glacial ice. Almost 90% is in Antarctica, while the remaining 10% is in the Greenland ice cap.
A glacier diminishing or retreating in size over time as a result of less ice accumulating on it or more ice melting is referred to as glacial retreat.
The vast majority of instances of rapid glacial retreat are very certainly the result of anthropogenic activities leading to global climate change.
Since the turn of the 20th century, several glaciers throughout the world have been melting swiftly. Human activity is the cause of this phenomenon.
- The ages of glaciers throughout the world range from hundreds to thousands of years, and they provide a historical record of climatic change. Their research offers important details on how rapidly and to what degree the earth is warming.
The present rate of glacier retreat is a challenge for glacier monitoring in three ways:
- First, the rapid glacier retreat with the disintegration of large glaciers into smaller ones, the formation of periglacial lakes, and the increased debris cover make it difficult to keep up length change and mass balance measurements.
- Second, major parts of the monitoring systematics were developed for glaciers closer to balance as they appear to be now. The rapid melting has made it difficult to capture and quantify the extremes.
- Third, all the above-mentioned processes need thorough and consistent documentation, which has to be developed and coordinated in real-time at national and international levels.
As glaciers retreat, they expose landscapes that were only recently covered by ice. This provides an excellent opportunity to explore and understand how glacial landforms and sediments are formed during glacier recessions.
Causes of glacial retreat
The phenomena of glacial retreat and meting are mostly the results of human activity.
In particular, since the industrial revolution, emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide have increased temperatures, even more near the poles, and as a result, glaciers are quickly melting, calving off into the sea, and retreating on land.
Global warming: Greenhouse gases, which affect the warming trend by trapping heat in the atmosphere, have been produced as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. More glaciers melt and recede as temperatures increase, exposing the land underneath.
Climate change: Statistics predict that shortly, glacier loss will be at an all-time high. The faster melting of glaciers is a result of temperature increases brought on by global warming. Studies show that the main cause of glacier retreat is human-caused global warming.
Oil and gas extraction: During the process of extracting oil and gas, methane, the main component of natural gas, is also released. The gas also traps heat more efficiently than carbon dioxide, accelerating global warming, and making it more detrimental to the environment.
Solar radiation: The most important of these is the quantity of solar energy that touches the ice, which has an impact on glacier melting and receding. Glaciers lose mass as a result of increased radiation-induced melting.
Glacial till: The unsorted mass of material known as glacial till is gathered by moving glaciers and can include everything from silt to big boulders. The ice is protected by boulders while the weaker ice around it melts.
Even if we significantly curb emissions in the coming decades, more than a third of the world’s remaining glaciers will melt before the year 2100. When it comes to sea ice, 95% of the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic is already gone.
Impact of glacial melting and retreat
The glacial retreat can have a variety of important environmental effects, such as altered local ecosystems, altered water supply, and a higher risk of natural catastrophes like landslides and floods.
Rising sea level and coastal erosion: When Sea levels rise due to melting glaciers, more frequent and more powerful coastal storms like hurricanes and typhoons are produced. This increases coastal erosion and storm surge.
The Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets in particular are the main causes of the rise in sea levels worldwide.
Weather patterns: As this ice melts, darker patches of the ocean start to emerge, eliminating the effect that previously cooled the poles, creating warmer air temperatures and in turn disrupting normal patterns of ocean circulation.
Research shows the polar vortex is appearing outside of the Arctic more frequently because of changes to the jet stream, caused by a combination of warming air and ocean temperatures in the Arctic and the tropics.
Fishing industries: Industries that thrive on vibrant fisheries will be affected as warmer waters change where and when fish spawn.
Coastal communities will continue to face billion-dollar disaster recovery bills as flooding becomes more frequent and storms become more intense.
Wildlife: In the Arctic, as sea ice melts, wildlife like walruses are losing their home and polar bears are spending more time on land, causing higher rates of conflict between people and bears.
Fresh water scarcity: The scarcity of fresh water must be taken into account. There is less water accessible for human usage, whether it is for drinking, hydroelectricity production, or agriculture, the less ice there is.
Threat of coral reefs: To thrive through the process of photosynthesis, coral reefs need sunshine. Due to glaciers melting or retreating, rising sea levels prevent corals from receiving adequate sunlight.
Rapid glacial melt in Antarctica and Greenland also influences ocean currents, as massive amounts of very cold glacial-melt water entering warmer ocean waters are slowing ocean currents. And as ice on land melts, sea levels will continue to rise.
By acting as massive mirrors that reflect sunlight from the Earth’s surface into the atmosphere and regulate the planet’s temperature, glaciers play a significant part in preventing global warming. People throughout the world depend on the rivers that are created by runoff from glacial melting.
It’s important to be aware of the consequences of fossil fuel usage. The level of thermal energy in the environment rises as a result of the widespread use of fossil fuels. Over usage of coal and oil has an annual impact on the artificial atmosphere in addition to depleting these limited resources.
Research and development for mitigating and preventing further melting of glaciers should be given credence. Science along with other environmental strategies can help mitigate the catastrophe.
Similarly, alternate energy sources such as solar, wind, and other green sources should be given more promotion.
Glaciers are important as they provide a scientific record of how climate has changed over time. Through their study, we gain valuable information about the extent to which the planet is rapidly warming. They provide scientists with a record of how climate has changed over time.
-Article written by Swathi Satish
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