As large ice sheets around the world dwindle, the health of the Eurasian glaciers is in a precarious state, reported a conjunction of environmental studies this month. Just days after scientists warned that the Arctic's permanent ice was thawing 70 years ahead of schedule, reports of melting glaciers erupted in Greenland; has lost an unprecedented 2 billion tonnes of ice this week.
To make matters worse for the developing world, on Friday, June 21, a Cold War era spy camera found that Himalayan glaciers were being devastated by rising temperatures in the Indian subcontinent, posing a serious danger to communities downstream.
A historic report on biodiversity last month said that 1 million species of animals and plants are in danger. This month, environmentalists reported that the world's second largest emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica had disappeared because of "breeding failures," the British Antarctic Survey research team said in a statement. The colony at Halley Bay collapsed in 2016, with more than 10,000 chickens lost, and the population has not recovered, according to a recent study.
Devastating images of an emaciated polar bear entering a Russian industrial city hundreds of miles away from its natural hunting habitat and looking for food in a Siberian dump also came this week.
Glaciers are a direct indicator of temperature
Recently, a group of researchers collected carbon plants on the edges of 30 layers of ice on Baffin Island, the fifth largest island in the world in the Canadian Inuit territory of Greenland.
They recently published their findings in the journal Communications of nature, Concluding: "The Arctic is heating up two to three times faster than the rest of the world, so, of course, the glaciers and the polar ice caps will react faster."
The latest observations from NASA aircraft corroborated this. Data showed that temperatures jumped 40 degrees above normal, as the Arctic Ocean and Greenland, which contains an ice sheet twice the size of Rajasthan, observe record levels of melting.
Jakobshavn Glacier, which produced the iceberg that sank the Titanic, is 40 miles long and once a mile thick. But since 2012, the year of record melting, has been fast and thinning quickly. According The EconomistGreenland is currently losing 3 billion tonnes of ice every day, about three times the mid-June average of 1981-2010.
This much melting This in early summer could be a bad sign; According to experts, it is indicative that 2019 could once again set records for the amount of Greenland ice loss.
Greenland has increasingly contributed to global sea level rise over the past two decades, and surface melting and runoff are a big part of that.
This year a high-pressure ridge pulled the hot, humid air from the Central Atlantic to the island, causing warmer temperatures on the ice. and preventing the precipitation that led to clear and sunny skies.
In the past two weeks, the high-pressure ridge has gotten even stronger as another high-pressure front has advanced from the eastern US – which has caused the long warm, dry period in the southeast of the country earlier this month, CNN said.
Will the Himalayas resist this storm?
An unprecedented development also affected Himalayan glaciers – covering 2,000 kilometers and sheltering around 600 billion tons of ice. They have been found to have lost more than a quarter of their ice mass since 1975, with melting occurring twice as fast after the turn of the century as the average temperature rose.
A team of researchers at Columbia University looked at 40 years of satellite observations in India, China, Nepal and Bhutan, and found that Himalayan glaciers have receded rapidly over the past two decades due to an average temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius in region.
The mountains supply about 800 million people with water for irrigation, hydroelectric power and drink; however, according to CNN, they have been losing nearly a foot of ice every year since the beginning of this century.
The short-term impact includes flooding, but less ice on the glaciers can lead to drought. Recently, glaciers have lost about 8 billion tonnes of water per year, according to the researchers behind the study, which could threaten the supply of water to hundreds of millions of people in parts of Asia.
Read too: The acute water crisis in Chennai: How bad is the situation really?
Not just in Eurasia, the glaciers are melting everywhere
Even though Greenland is in a cycle of constant expansion and recession, the freezing rate is not enough to reach exponential melting rates.
The same goes for Montana's Glacier National Park, which, despite growing, will be free of glaciers by 2030, scientists say. In southern Chile, Pia Glacier is no exception. Even at the South Pole, a 25-year study of satellite data showed that warming of ocean waters is causing ice to sink so fast that 24 percent of glacier ice in West Antarctica is now affected.
Writing for The Globe and the Mail, visual artist Bettina Matzkuhn says: "On a visit to the [British] Columbia Icefields in Alberta, I went through markers showing where the ice had hit in different years. The toe of the glacier retreated two miles from its position in the late 1800s. "
The greatest threat, however, belies permafrost in the tundra regions of Siberia and Alaska. Under normal circumstances, about 50 cm of layers of permafrost melt during the summer. But now, global warming is gradually melting older layers of permafrost.
A team of researchers used a modified propeller plane to visit uniquely remote locations in the Canadian Arctic, home to about 30 percent of the world's glaciers. They were shocked to witness an unrecognizable landscape that was far from pristine and instead was filled with hollows and waist-high ponds. The once scarce vegetation has now bloomed in the shelter of the constant wind and cloud.
Pandora's box of diseases
To mankind, the particularly important question now is how quickly these huge deposits of ice will melt into the sea. Even though the movement due to tectonic changes catalyzes the collapse, it ultimately depends on how much heat-trapping carbon we decide to pump into the atmosphere.
But rising sea levels, the loss of human habitat and threats to marine biodiversity aside, the glacial collapse caused by man-made global warming also have other repercussions.
In August 2016, a 12-year-old boy died and at least 20 people were hospitalized after being infected with anthrax. This happened on the Yamal peninsula, in the Arctic Circle, a remote corner of the Siberian tundra.
The frozen ground of permafrost is possibly the perfect place for bacteria to remain alive for long periods of time, perhaps up to a million years. But climate change is melting permafrost areas that have been frozen for thousands of years.
As permafrost melts, the old bacteria and viruses that have been frozen come back to life with the warming of Earth's climate. Scientists are also concerned that rapid thawing could lead to a release of nuclear waste and heat trap gases underneath, triggering a feedback loop that in turn would raise the temperature even faster.
For example, there are traces of lead and mercury, the chemicals used after the Spanish occupation, in the silver mines of Potosi, Bolivia, deep in the layers of 1,200-year-old polar ice caps in the Andes Mountains in Peru. In the same way, many modern glacial formations can melt to release fossilized radioactive material.
This is not everything; the impact of a glacial meltdown on settlements extends not only to coastal communities, but also to those in the foothills. For example, a menacing black glacier is collapsing in a valley in northern Pakistan, threatening to cut off a vital link with China and block the melted water that could flood the villages below. Glacial lakes are also forming where communities have flourished, as is the case in the Himalayas.
The response, once again, lies in reducing carbon emissions, shifting to renewable energies and practicing sustainable tourism around vulnerable glaciers.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer in Qrius.