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Alps could lose 80% of glacier cover by 2100

Alps could lose 80% of glacier cover by 2100

Alps could lose 80% of glacier cover by 2100
July 10, 2006

The European Alps could lose 80 percent of their glacier cover by the year 2100, if summer air temperatures increase by three degrees Celsius (five degrees Fahrenheit) according to a study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

The research, based on modeling experiments by Swiss scientists, further suggests that the Alps would become almost completely ice-free by the end of this century if summer temperatures rise by five degrees Celsius (nine degrees Fahrenheit).

“Our study shows that under such scenarios, the majority of Alpine glaciers might disappear within the coming decades”, said Michael Zemp, lead author of the study and a glaciologist in the Department of Geography of the University of Zurich.

Zemp says that should in summer temperature rise more than three degree Celsius, only the largest glaciers and those on the highest mountain peaks could survive into next century. “Especially in densely populated high mountain areas such as the European Alps, one should start immediately to consider the consequences of such extreme glacier wasting on the hydrological cycles, water management, tourism, and natural hazards,” he added.

Aletsch Glacier, the largest glacier of Europe. Image by NASA’s Earth Observatory Team.

Zemp and his team of researchers say that “for each one degree Celsius [two degrees Fahrenheit] increase in mean summer temperature, precipitation would have to increase by 25 percent to offset the glacial loss.”

The scientists note that since the 1970s, Europe has lost about 50 percent of the area that was covered with glaciers in 1850. In 2003 alone, 5 to 10 percent of the remaining ice was lost.

Glaciers are closely watched by scientists as natural indicators of climate change. Recent years have seen rapidly shrinking glacier areas and increasing mass losses as the atmosphere has warmed. Climatologists say that carbon dioxide emissions from the use of fossil fuels has contributed to global warming, especially since 1850.

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Researchers studying ancient tropical ice cores have found evidence of two abrupt climate shifts — one 5000 years ago and one currently underway. The findings, published in the current issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, may have important implications for immediate future since more than two-thirds of the world’s population resides in the tropics.

Global warming will reduce glaciers, water supply and affect millions of people

In the looming future, global warming will reduce glaciers and storage packs of snow in regions around the world, causing water shortages and other problems that will impact millions of people. That is the conclusion of researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California , San Diego, and the University of Washington in a review paper published in the November 17 issue of the journal Nature. .

This article uses quotes and information from news release from the University of Zurich.

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