5 Mountain Climate Change and Melting Glaciers: Causes and Consequences

Monday, 20 August 2012
Priest Creek AB (The Steamboat Grand)
Richard K. Snow, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ., Daytona Beach, FL; and M. M. Snow
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Handout (2.0 MB)

The Himalayan Mountains and the Tibetan Plateau are home to many of the world's great glaciers covering more than 70,000 square miles. The glaciers are the source of water for the main rivers of India including the sacred Ganges and the Indus. During the summer, the slowly melting glaciers provide water for drinking and irrigation, and during the winter snowfall replenishes the ice for the next summer. However, warmer temperatures are causing the glaciers to melt faster during the summer, causing major flooding in the lowlands while the lack of snowfall at higher elevations during the warmer winters is causing drought. The same is true of the glaciers along the equator in Africa. Mount Kenya has had glaciers throughout recorded history, but now only 20 percent of the glaciers there remain. The farmers in the surrounding valleys have always depended on the glaciers for their water, but the rivers are drying up and people are starving. The Snows of Mount Kilimanjaro are world famous and have been a mainstay of the people of equatorial Africa for centuries. Today the glaciers on the mountain are nearly gone and will soon vanish completely leaving the locals to fight over the limited remaining water supplies. Likewise, in the mountains of Uganda, the glaciers are disappearing at an alarming rate with 80 percent of the glacial ice melting since 1850 and all of the glaciers expected to be gone within the next 40 years. The glaciers in the European Alps have decreased by 50 percent since the 1900s and are predicted to disappear by the middle of the 21st century. During the devastating summer heat wave of 2003 which killed at least 30,000 Europeans, the glaciers in the Alps lost 7 feet of ice. Switzerland suffered major flooding in 2005 as a result of rapidly melting glaciers and the resultant runoff. And, Glacier National Park has lost 80 percent of its glacial ice since 1850 and is expected to be glacier free within 30 years. This research examines the causes and consequences of melting mountain glaciers across the globe.

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