From Big Melt to Big Swamp
By Stephen Leahy
Jun 5 (IPS) – The Earth is going dark. From the Arctic Ocean to the Himalayan mountains to the Russian tundra, ice and snow are in rapid and permanent retreat in response to global warming, a new U.N. report said Tuesday.
Glaciers, ice sheets, sea and river ice are all melting. The areas in the northern hemisphere covered by snow and ice have declined 1.3 percent per decade for the past four decades. And that’s expected to accelerate dramatically in the coming years.
“Around the Earth, white is being replaced by dark,” said Gunnar Sander of the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromso, Norway.
The white — snow and ice — reflect sunlight while the dark — bare ground and open water — absorb the heat from sunlight, increasing the pace of global warming.
“This is affecting the heat balance of the planet,” Sander told IPS.
Hundreds of millions if not billions of people will be affected by rising sea levels, declining water supplies for drinking and agriculture, and mounting hazards caused by subsidence of currently frozen land, according to a U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) report “Global Outlook for Ice and Snow” released on World Environment Day in Tromso.
The focus of World Environment Day this year is “Melting Ice, a Hot Topic?”
An estimated 40 percent of the world’s population could be affected by loss of snow and glaciers in the mountains of Asia, the 260-page Global Outlook reported.
The Global Outlook updates information used by the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and presents in it a far more accessible and readable manner for the average person, says Sander.
Two things in the report leap out. One is that there is an enormous amount of ice and snow on the planet. At the peak of the northern hemisphere winter, 15 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by snow and ice. Permanently frozen ground, or permafrost, is found in both polar and alpine areas and covers about 20 percent of Earth’s land areas.
This cold region is so big and important scientists call it the cryosphere, and it is crucial to keeping the planet from overheating.
That’s the second thing — the integral role ice and snow play in climate. Determining what is going to happen as global warming melts the cryosphere keeps climate scientists up at night.
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Here are my most recent articles (Dec 08) on the meltdown of the Arctic: