(Victor Hugo, French writer)
I love glaciers. They are dynamic creatures, flowing, pushing, retreating. They are story-tellers, conserving the past and predicting the future through their rhythms, which reflect the beat of their environments. The massive size of their bodies consumes long time-scales to built. Healthy, stationary glaciers infer a stable outer world. Listening to the stories of the ice reveals that our planet is rapidly changing.
A quickly disappearing world
Glaciers all over the world are melting at an alarming rate and faster than previously predicted.1 The worldwide observations collected by the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), speak a clear language (see the graph below).
Apart from being important reservoirs providing water and irrigation for billions of people worldwide, together with sea-ice, glaciers have an important cooling function for the planet. Any snowy surface essentially acts as a mirror, reflecting the suns’ radiation back into space (albedo-effect). The continuous shrinking of earths’ albedo surfaces therefore accelerate the warming in a vicious circle. Higher surface temperatures melt ice and less ice reflects less light, which increases temperatures, which in turn melts even more ice and so forth (ice-albedo feedback). This is the major reason why the poles and the high alpine regions are warming much more quickly than the rest of the planet. Their cooling covers are shrinking.
1 Brysse et al, Climate change prediction: Erring on the side of least drama?, Global Environmental Change, October 2012
2 The current State of Glaciers around the world, World Glacier Monitoring Service, https://wgms.ch/downloads/_FAQ_RefGlac_Regional_Cum_MB.svg, last access: 04.12.2018