Half of all glaciers worldwide are doomed. Even if we met the most ambitious targets for containing the growth of average global temperatures, it would not be enough. The unsettling news was revealed in a study published on 5th January in the journal Science, which for the first time examined the data from all the glaciers on Earth, some 215,000 in total (with the sole exclusion of those in Greenland and Antarctica).
The troubling findings show that almost half of these, 104,000 to be exact, will completely disappear. Even if we hit the most optimistic target set by the international community: not surpassing 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial levels. Considering that currently, global average temperatures have already increased by 1.2 degrees Celsius and that the risk of not hitting the target is extremely high, it is easy to see the risk that glaciers all over the world are facing.
The study, which was carried out by an international research group, explains that if the worst-case climate change scenario were to come to pass, with a 4-degree-Celsius increase by 2100, over 80 per cent of glaciers would be lost.
With +2,7 degrees we would lose 94% of glaciers in the Alps
The most at-risk glaciers are particularly the smallest, whose area is under one square kilometre. However, these make up the majority of existing glaciers. Their melting, according to scientists, could “negatively affect the water cycle, tourism, and cause damage.” Suffice it to say that, today, glaciers are a source of water for 1.9 billion people across the world.
And there’s more: the researchers explain that even those glaciers that will “survive” will lose between 26 and 41 per cent of their mass, compared to 2015. The Alps will be among the greatest victims of global heating. The mountain range that crosses France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, and Slovenia will lose 85 per cent of its glaciers even if the 1.5-degree target is met. And in the 4-degree scenario, the loss will be 99 per cent. In an intermediate scenario, with a 2.7-degree temperature increase, there is little improvement: losses will amount to 94 per cent.
The extremely mild temperatures recorded throughout Europe in early 2023, greatly above the average for this time of year, only worsen the situation, with snow cover falling to historic lows.
Pockets of “resistance” only in the Arctic and the tallest peaks in Asia
Only the vastest glaciers will be more resistant to these changes, benefiting from their greater volume. This is the case, for example, of glaciers in Alaska, the Russian and Canadian Arctic, Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, or atop Asia‘s tallest peaks. This means that, despite the fact that 50 per cent of glaciers are already doomed, we are still in time to protect the Earth’s largest glaciers. Thus, impacts will be limited, even in terms of sea level rise. The study, therefore, represents another warning to governments all over the world, to act fast and effectively to cut greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible.