Thanks to global warming, our planet’s glaciers continue to melt away, losing up to 390 billion tons of ice and snow per year, a new study suggests.
The largest losses were glaciers in Alaska, followed by the melting ice fields in southern South America and glaciers in the Arctic.
“Over 30 years, suddenly almost all regions started losing mass at the same time,” said study lead author Michael Zemp of the University of Zurich. “That’s clearly climate change if you look at the global picture.”
He said glaciers could almost disappear in some mountain ranges by the end of the century, including those in the U.S.
The world’s seas have risen about an inch in the past 50 years just due to glacier melt alone, according to the study.
In fact, the current rate of contribution from glaciers to sea-level rise is about the same as that from the Greenland ice sheet and is more than the contribution from the Antarctic ice sheet.
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Since 1961, the world has lost 10.6 trillion tons of ice and snow, the study reported. Melted, that’s enough to cover the lower 48 U.S. states in about 4 feet of water.
Man-made climate change, aka global warming, is caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as gas, coal and oil, which release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane into the atmosphere. This extra CO2 causes temperatures of the atmosphere and oceans to rise to levels that can’t be explained by natural causes.
Monday’s study, “is telling us there’s much more to the story,” said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, who wasn’t part of the study. “The influence of glaciers on sea level is bigger than we thought.”
The study, published Monday in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature, was the most comprehensive measurement of Earth’s glaciers ever done.
Contributing: The Associated Press