Melting of glaciers and its impact

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Context: The United Nations has reported that the world’s glaciers melted at an alarming rate last year, and saving them from further destruction is virtually impossible due to climate change.

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The last eight years have been the warmest on record, with greenhouse gas concentrations hitting new peaks, and sea levels rising at an unprecedented rate. Antarctic sea ice reached a new low, and some European glaciers melted at an alarming rate. The oceans also experienced record high temperatures due to greenhouse gases. Despite the Paris Agreement’s pledge to limit global warming, the outlook for glaciers and the environment is grim.

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Impact of melting of Glaciers

  • Increase in sea level: As glaciers melt, the water they release adds to the global sea level, which can lead to flooding and erosion of coastal areas.
  • Changes in weather patterns: The melting glaciers are causing a significant concern as they are adding a considerable amount of freshwater into the ocean. This increase in freshwater has the potential to disturb the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which is a crucial system of ocean currents responsible for shaping the Earth’s climate and weather patterns. 
  • Scarcity of freshwater: The fresh water available for human consumption is limited to only 2% of the total water on Earth, with over 70% of it locked in the form of glaciers and snow. Although glaciers are a primary source of fresh water in many regions of the world, the ever-growing population and the decreasing mass of glaciers pose a severe threat of water scarcity in the future.
  • Impact on Biodiversity: Melting glaciers can affect the habitats and migration patterns of many animal species, which can have cascading effects on entire ecosystems. E.g., In the Arctic, as sea ice melts, wildlife like walrus are losing their home and polar bears are spending more time on land, causing higher rates of conflict between people and bears.
  • Increased risk of natural disasters: The retreat of glaciers can increase the risk of natural disasters such as landslides, rockfalls, and glacial lake outburst floods. 
  • Loss of cultural heritage: Glaciers are often important cultural sites and have significant spiritual and symbolic value to indigenous communities, and their loss can result in the loss of cultural heritage.
  • Economic impacts: The melting of glaciers can have significant economic impacts, particularly in regions where tourism and recreation are dependent on glacier-fed rivers and lakes. E.g., Himalayan region.
  • Increasing global warming: Due to the shrinking of high-albedo glaciers and sea ice, more solar radiation is being absorbed by the Earth, which creates a dangerous feedback loop, leading to a more rapid cycle of warming and melting.

Mains Practice Question:

Q. What are the potential consequences of melting of glaciers across the globe? Discuss the measures that can be taken to mitigate the adverse effects of this phenomenon on the environment and human societies.

Source: The Hindu

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