Climate change, reducing glaciers scare science

Climate change, reducing glaciers scare science

Glaciers around the world have shrunk by 2% in ten years, and 2,720 gigatonnes of ice have been lost: this phenomenon, which is largely due to warming air, is documented by the European Space Agency’s CryoSat satellite. Its data, collected between 2010 and 2020, has been analyzed thanks to new technology by researchers from the British company Earthwave and the University of Edinburgh, who have published the findings in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Mountain glaciers are an essential source of fresh water for human activities, and their melting contributes more to sea level rise than the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. Despite playing such a critical role, it is still difficult to monitor their health status to get accurate estimates of ice losses.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have thought of filling this gap by exploiting data collected by CryoSat using a radar altimeter that measures the height of ice surfaces: although the instrument is ideal for measuring the height of sea ice and polar ice caps, it is too rough for monitoring mountain glaciers. However, the researchers were able to develop a new data-processing technique (called “scan processing”) that allowed them to refine for detailed information even in complex, frozen terrain.

In this way they found that “mountain glaciers lost 2% of their volume between 2010 and 2020”, explains the first author of the study, Livia Jacob. This is equivalent to 2,720 gigatonnes. This can be imagined as a giant ice cube, larger than the tallest mountain in Europe, which is quite shocking. We also found that air temperature, which causes surface ice to melt, is responsible for 89% of this loss.” Instead, the remaining 11% is attributed to warming oceans that caress and melt the front of those glaciers that reach the coast.

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