Photo: / Kimberly Vardeman CC BY

Faster melting ice-sheets

Research shows that the tipping point for long-term melting of polar regions and high-mountain glaciers could be close.

Glaciers and ice-sheets all over the world continue to melt at unprecedented rates. This article presents four examples of new research published since November 2018:

1. Greenpeace China: “This is a wake-up call for China and the world. Glaciers in China supply water to 1.8 billion people, and they’re melting, fast. There are more than 48,000 glaciers in China, which form part of the ‘Third Pole’, the largest concentration of glaciers and snow outside the polar regions. Almost one-fifth of glacier area in China has already disappeared, and the volume of meltwater has increased by 53.5%. Without serious action to limit the impacts of climate change, two-thirds of glaciers in High Mountain Asia are projected to be gone by the end of the century.”1

2. International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development: “At least a third of the huge ice fields in Asia’s towering mountain chain are doomed to melt due to climate change, according to a new landmark report, with serious consequences for almost two billion people. Even if carbon emissions are dramatically and rapidly cut and succeed in limiting global warming to 1.5°C, 36% of the glaciers along the Hindu Kush and Himalaya range will have gone by 2100. If emissions are not cut, the loss soars to two-thirds, the report found. The glaciers are a critical water store for the 250 million people who live in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya (HKH) region, and 1.65 billion people rely on the great rivers that flow from the peaks into India, Pakistan, China and other nations.” 2

3. US National Academy of Sciences: “Greenland Ice Sheet at ‘Tipping Point’. Greenland is now losing ice at four times the rate it did 16 years ago. A study released in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences finds that meltwater from Greenland’s southwest icesheet could become a ‘major contributor’ to sea level rise as the world continues to warm. This is going to cause additional sea level rise. We are watching the icesheet hit a tipping point.” 3

4. US National Academy of Sciences: “Antarctica is now rapidly melting all over, including parts we thought were safe. Antarctic glaciers have been melting at an accelerating pace over the past four decades thanks to an influx of warm ocean water – a startling new finding that researchers say could mean sea levels are poised to rise more quickly than predicted in coming decades. The Antarctic lost 40 billion tons of melting ice to the ocean each year from 1979 to 1989. That figure rose to 252 billion tons lost per year beginning in 2009, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That means the region is losing six times as much ice as it was four decades ago, an unprecedented pace in the era of modern measurements.” 4

In September 2019 the IPCC will publish a special report about climate change and iceshields and oceans. The UN Climate Summit will be held at the same time in New York. This meeting is the main event after the Talanoa Dialogue, which in 2018 discussed increasing the ambition level of the UN Climate Convention (see AN 2018). The summit will decide on the need for increased targets for National Climate Action Plans. The IPCC special reports on 1.5°C (published on 8 October 2018) and on oceans and iceshields (to be published on the 23 September 2019) will be key scientific assessments for this decision.  

Reinhold Pape



In this issue