Study: Earth Risks Losing Significant Glacier Mass By 2100

According to a study published Thursday in the journal Science, Earth could lose 83% of its glaciers by 2100 if temperatures increase by several degrees — a worst-case scenario the study considers unlikely.

Study: Earth Risks Losing Significant Glacier Mass By 2100
Image credit: Vice

Facts

  • According to a study published Thursday in the journal Science, Earth could lose 83% of its glaciers by 2100 if temperatures increase by several degrees — a worst-case scenario the study considers unlikely.
  • Even in a low-emissions scenario — where temperature rises are kept within +1.5°C over baseline — the study finds 26% of Earth’s glaciers are expected to disappear by the end of the century.
  • The study suggests a 68% loss of glacial mass if global warming continues at the current rate of +2.7°C. If that happens, no glaciers would regions including western Canada, the US, and New Zealand.
  • Furthermore, the study estimates a 1.5°C rise in temperature will contribute to a sea-level rise of 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) compared to 6 inches (154 mm) under a 4°C increase.
  • For the study, the scientists looked at data sets for nearly 215K glaciers — excluding the massive ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.
  • The amount of ice lost by glaciers in the 1990s was about 760B tons per year; the glaciers accelerated to an annual pace of 1.2T tons in the 2010s.

Sources: Time, CNN, Huffington Post, National, and Washington Post.

Narratives

  • Narrative A, as provided by Washington Post. The study presents a worrying picture. Scientists have raised the alarm —ice is melting faster worldwide, and it's going to get worse. While the melt itself is a natural process, global warming is not a process that will stop itself. It's high time the world comes up with bold new plans to prevent the potentially devastating rise in sea levels before they eventually inundate humanity living along the coastlines.
  • Narrative B, as provided by Wall Street Journal. Ice melt is complicated. Whether discussing glaciers in Greenland, Antarctica, or otherwise, there are often conflicting data sets, and not all ice melt results in sea level rise. A nuanced understanding of Earth's "cryosphere" is superior to simple climate alarmism.
  • Narrative C, as provided by The Conversation. There are multiple methods to keep global warming in check besides slashing emissions — including capturing carbon from the Earth's oceans. But even these methods should not be seen as a silver bullet. Before countries start experimenting with the ocean's health, they must consider ecological, environmental, and economic benefits or risks to communities solely dependent on the sea for survival. This is a tricky and messy issue.

Predictions