Tag Archive | "shrinking glaciers"

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What Happens Downstream from Disappearing Glaciers?

Posted on 18 November 2012 by Jerry

History is full of civilizations which grew up around predictable sources of water.  Glaciers, in conjunction with winter snows, store water in the form of ice and create consistent sources of fresh water for downstream use.  But what happens in an age of global warming to downstream populations when glaciers disappear upstream?  This is precisely the question a research team is seeking to answer using glaciers in the Andes of Peru as the basis for their major study.

The study, funded by a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation, will be used to develop a baseline for computerized climate models to predict the effects on human population centers that depend on mountain runoff as their main source of water.  As the most comprehensive study of the climate change impact on glaciers funded to date, the study will also provide specific information for Peruvian leadership so they can prepare for the more limited water supplies in the future.

There are glaciers on all of the continents of the world (see link below).  Peru was selected because it has the largest mass of tropical mountain glaciers in the Cordillera Blanca (or White Mountain) range.  The majority of water supplied flows down the Santa River Valley, known as the Callejón de Huaylas, to hundreds of thousands of people in the valley.  By measuring for example, how the rocks, water and ice react as the heat of the day rises, how they behave as the area cools at night and correlating this with measurements of the thickness of the glaciers measured by satellites and aircraft, the researchers will construct a model of how glaciers will change.  By adjusting for local conditions like altitude, average temperature and historic downstream water use scientists believe their model will be useful all around the world.

Past studies have shown that glaciers have been shrunk between 20-30% since 1970.   The rate of shrinkage appears to be accelerating with recent assessments by the French Institute for Development showing the total mass of glaciers in the tropical Andes shrinking by roughly 3% per year.  Preliminary study results indicate these glaciers in the Andes will not completely disappear in the summer months.  This is due to their high altitude.  Were they farther down, they would disappear completely.   The projected future water flow however, will not meet forecasted future needs which include needs for basic drinking water, electricity generation and agricultural irrigation. 

A recent article appearing in the November 8, 2012 issue of Nature magazine which talks about the study in Peru indicates “glaciers serve as a buffer, locking up precipitation during the rainy season and releasing water slowly during the dry season, between June and September, when almost no rain falls.” The article further quotes Jeffrey McKenzie, a hydrologist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada as stating “You can think of glaciers as hydrological Prozac – they smooth out the highs and the lows.”  Without glaciers water use will have to adapt to greater seasonal variation between wet and dry seasons.

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A Broken Record

Posted on 03 August 2011 by Jerry

June 2011, San Francisco, Climate Change

I am so tired of hearing it…another climate change record.  This time the world’s mountain glaciers lost more mass in 2010 than any other year on record.  Of course the truth is that 2010 was not really a “winning” year if you consider the air temperature above land around the world was only the second warmest on record.  2010 only took third place if you consider the average sea surface temperature of all the oceans of the world was only the third warmest on record or the third place taken in Arctic sea ice which took up only the third smallest surface area on record.  A boon to navigation since the area of ice was so small in September of 2010 that for the first time in modern history, both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route were open for navigation.  Given these facts 2010 was really only an “also ran” year.

Of course even these statistics are suspect given the report was issued by that bogus climate agency, the American Meteorology Society, in their Annual Bulletin, Vol. 92 and Issue 6 Supplement.  I mean how accurate can it be with so many science contributors from around the world…there can’t be much quality control with so many contributors!   This poor showing of 2010 in the “I can top that” sweepstakes must be the reason that for yet another year no major climate change legislation was passed by the Congress of the United States.  Also this probably was why there were no major international agreements on how to begin to address climate change.  We’re obviously waiting for a year that makes “firsts” in all categories.  Only then will we know something is really serious!

Background:  In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time in Chapter 11: Protect Life Imperative – Climate Change there is considerable discussion of global climate change as one of the four looming threats to life on our planet.

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