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40 major glaciers in danger of melting

  • 40 major glaciers in danger of melting

    Glaciers are formations of densely packed ice that cover much of Greenland and Antarctica, as well as mountain ranges around the world. Some of them formed more than 10,000 years ago when the last glacial period—the tail end of the most recent Ice Age—ended. Some alpine (mountain) glaciers are sources of freshwater, and, in some regions, provide substantial amounts of the water people consume. Glaciers form and grow when snowfall is heavy enough to compress into solid ice, and can even flow downhill at a very slow pace.

    But glaciers are threatened by the rise in global temperatures due to human activity, through melting or sublimation (ice going directly from solid to vapor without becoming liquid first) and because they aren't being replenished at their usual rates. This has many profound consequences, some of which feed back into the general problem of climate change. Where glaciers are melting into the ocean, they contribute to sea-level rise. Drastic loss of ice also decreases Earth's albedo, the amount of light the planet reflects back into space, which increases global temperatures even more. And alpine glacial melting affects the water cycle for entire regions, impacting our water supply.

    To track the problem, the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) compiled data from 1919 to 2019 in its Fluctuations of Glaciers Database from a variety of scientific sources and researchers in over 30 countries. While the database was originally established to understand ice ages of Earth's past, today WGMS draws on decades of observations to understand the present and future of glaciers under climate change. Stacker took the February 2019 edition of the database and picked 40 glaciers for which WGMS has at least 30 years of ongoing measurements, using the Fluctuations of Glaciers Database to estimate the accumulated mass loss over the time of observation. Unfortunately, that means many extremely important glaciers in the Southern Hemisphere and Central Asia are not included due to the lack of long-term observations.

    This story uses a standard glacier measurement: the mass balance, which is the total loss of ice from a glacier in a given period of time, written in terms of the "millimeter water equivalent" or mm w.e. In plain terms, 1 kilogram of water spreads out over a square meter to the depth of 1 millimeter, so mm w.e. provides both the mass of the ice loss and an estimate of how much of the glacier is gone. It's important to note that all these measurements involve absolute ice loss, without regard to the original size of the glacier. That means some glaciers might seem less affected, but because they started off smaller, their decline is all the more drastic.

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  • Gulkana

    - Mountain range: Alaska (United States)
    - Years studied: 1966 to 2017
    - 30-year cumulative mass change: -27,334 mm w.e. (#15 highest mass loss)
    - Full mass balance plot and other info

    Gulkana Glacier is a glacier filling several valleys in the east-central Alaska Range in the state of Alaska. This is one of the essential reference glaciers, with observations and mass balance measurements taken every year for more than 50 years. In all but eight of those years, Gulkana has lost ice, including every year since 2000.

  • Wolverine

    - Mountain range: Alaska (United States)
    - Years studied: 1966 to 2017
    - 30-year cumulative mass change: -22,896 mm w.e. (#21 highest mass loss)
    - Full mass balance plot and other info

    Wolverine Glacier is also in Alaska, in the southern coastal mountains of the Kenai Peninsula. Its location means it sees more snowfall than inland glaciers, and it also has been tracked for more than 50 years. Only two years since 2000 show Wolverine Glacier growing; the other years more than balance that, giving it a substantial net loss of ice.

  • White

    - Mountain range: Arctic Canada North (Canada)
    - Years studied: 1960 to 2017
    - 30-year cumulative mass change: -19,564 mm w.e. (#26 highest mass loss)
    - Full mass balance plot and other info

    Axel Heiberg Island, far in the north of Nunavut, Canada, is home to White Glacier. This glacier is 400 meters thick in some places, and because of the arid conditions above the Arctic Circle receives very little new snow. Since monitoring the White Glacier began in 1960, the mass loss has increased dramatically, with a noticeable downward trend since 2000.

  • Melville South Ice Cap

    - Mountain range: Arctic Canada North (Canada)
    - Years studied: 1963 to 2017
    - 30-year cumulative mass change: -13,286 mm w.e. (#34 highest mass loss)
    - Full mass balance plot and other info

    An ice cap is a type of glacier that covers one or more mountains or volcanoes. One of the WGMS reference glaciers is the Melville South Ice Cap on Melville (Iluliaq) Island, located in Canada's Northwest territories. In absolute terms, this glacier hasn't been hit as hard as some others, but mass loss, especially over the past two decades, has taken a heavy toll on the ice cap's total size.

  • Meighen Ice Cap

    - Mountain range: Arctic Canada North (Canada)
    - Years studied: 1960 to 2017
    - 30-year cumulative mass change: -8,271 mm w.e. (#38 highest mass loss)
    - Full mass balance plot and other info

    The Meighen Ice Cap covers much of Meighen Island in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut. As with many other Arctic island glaciers, ice loss from the Meighen Ice Cap contributes to sea-level rise, since there's nowhere else for the water to go but the ocean.

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  • Devon Ice Cap NW

    - Mountain range: Arctic Canada North (Canada)
    - Years studied: 1961 to 2017
    - 30-year cumulative mass change: -9,898 mm w.e. (#37 highest mass loss)
    - Full mass balance plot and other info

    Devon (Tallurutit) Island, also in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, is the largest unpopulated island in the world. The Devon Ice Cap NW is one part of a large mass of ice covering the eastern end of the island. Since 1990, only three years have seen increases in glacier mass, with dramatic ice loss visible especially since 2000.

  • Garabashi

    - Mountain range: Caucasus, Middle East (Russia)
    - Years studied: 1984 to 2018
    - 30-year cumulative mass change: -15,364 mm w.e. (#31 highest mass loss)
    - Full mass balance plot and other info

    Shifting our gaze around the world, Garabashi is a glacier in the Caucasus mountains on the southern slope of Mt. Elbrus in Russia. Scientists have tracked the mass balance since the early 1980s and measured the extent of the ice since before 1900. As a result, we know Garabashi has retreated by more than 1.5 kilometers since the first data were collected.

  • Djankuat

    - Mountain range: Caucasus, Middle East (Russia)
    - Years studied: 1968 to 2018
    - 30-year cumulative mass change: -20,861 mm w.e. (#25 highest mass loss)
    - Full mass balance plot and other info

    Djankuat is a valley glacier in the northern Caucasus mountains in Russia, roughly on the other side of the ridge from Garabashi. While the glacier has advanced and retreated since measurements began in the late 1800s, Djankuat has been in full retreat since 2005 with a net mass balance loss nearly every year since the early 1990s.

  • Ts. Tuyuksuyskiy

    - Mountain range: Central Asia (Kazakhstan)
    - Years studied: 1957 to 2018
    - 30-year cumulative mass change: -19,238 mm w.e. (#27 highest mass loss)
    - Full mass balance plot and other info

    Tsentralniy Tuyuksuyskiy, also known as Tuyuksu, is located in the Tien Shan Mountains of Kazakhstan. Even though the land surrounding Tsentralniy Tuyuksuyskiy is permafrost, scientists have recorded a mass balance loss almost every year since they started measuring in the 1950s. The measurements reveal that the glacier front has retreated by over a kilometer in the last century.

  • Urumqi Glacier No. 1

    - Mountain range: Central Asia (China)
    - Years studied: 1959 to 2018
    - 30-year cumulative mass change: -14,976 mm w.e. (#32 highest mass loss)
    - Full mass balance plot and other info

    The Tien Shan mountains run across the borders of several nations and are also home to Urumqi Glacier No. 1. Since observations began in 1959, this glacier has melted dramatically, splitting into two distinct glaciers as the ice retreated.

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