2020’s Rising Heat and Melting Glaciers

Image: Pascale Amez

As CNN reported, the size of Canada’s last fully intact ice shelf was reduced by 43% between July 30th and 31st when the Milne Ice Shelf on Ellesmere Island in the northern territory of Nunavut collapsed into the ocean.

The ice sheet splintered in two as it sank into the Arctic Ocean. To put it in perspective, Reuters explained, the shelf’s area shrank by about 80 square kilometers–by comparison, the island of Manhattan in New York covers roughly 60 square kilometers.

The Canadian Ice Service said in a tweet on Sunday that “Above normal air temperatures, offshore winds and open water in front of the ice shelf are all part of the recipe for ice shelf break up.”

While the Water and Ice Research Laboratory (WIRL) said in a press release on August 7th that as a result of “the presence of pre-existing fractures in the remaining Milne Ice Shelf, there is a potential for further destabilization.”

Why This Matters: As the planet continues to warm at an accelerated pace, we’re losing some of our most iconic glaciers. And it’s happening quickly. Just this past weekend, residents of Italy’s Aosta valley have been told to evacuate their homes after 500,000 cubic meters of ice was in danger of sliding off the Planpincieux glacier in the Grandes Jorasses park.

Glaciers matter because they contain 75% of the planet’s freshwater and their normal melting patterns help feed rivers and streams. As Columbia University’s Center for Climate and Life explained, “more than one-sixth of the world’s population, particularly in China, India and other Asian countries, live in the basins of glacier-fed rivers and depend on them for drinking and irrigation water.”

Reality of a Warming World: As the Weather Channel reported, earlier this year, French President Emmanuel Macron issued new rules to limit climbing and other activities on the part of Mont Blanc that stretches into his country.

  • The restrictions were put into place, in part, over mounting concerns about the safety of climbers on melting glaciers.

In the Alps especially where glaciers directly threaten alpine towns, monitoring these massive ice sheets and establishing early detection and warning systems when they’re on the brink of sliding will be key in saving lives.

The Threat of Melting Ice: As Grist explained, glaciers and ice sheets are melting far faster than scientists expected:

  • During a five-day heat wave this summer, Greenland lost more than 60 billion tons of ice, including the biggest loss in a 24-hour period since record-keeping began.
  • Recent projections warn that Arctic summers could be nearly ice-free in 10 to 40 years.
  • Arctic ice levels are both a primary indicator of rising global temperatures and a key determinant of how bad climate change might get.
  • Serious ice loss means sea levels rise, more heat is absorbed by the ocean and planet, and weather and ocean currents could change.


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