Irish Times view on global warming: new research reveals ‘staggering’ ice melt

Loss equivalent to an ice sheet over landmass of Ireland to a depth of 300 metres

Part of an iceberg breaks away in August 2019, at the Apusiajik glacier, near Kulusuk, a settlement in the Sermersooq municipality  on the island of the same name  southeast of Greenland. File photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty

Part of an iceberg breaks away in August 2019, at the Apusiajik glacier, near Kulusuk, a settlement in the Sermersooq municipality on the island of the same name southeast of Greenland. File photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty

 

Researchers investigating global ice melting have found that since 1994 some 28 trillion tonnes of ice have disappeared from the surface of the Earth. The satellite-photo-based work from Leeds and Edinburgh universities and University College London, finds ice loss matching the worst-case-scenario predictions outlined by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The result will be not only to raise sea levels potentially as much as one metre by the end of the century, but also seriously to diminish the ability of the Earth to reflect solar radiation, further adding to rising sea and atmospheric temperatures.

The scientists , who describe their findings as “staggering” and clear confirmation of climate warming, warn that a million people are likely to be displaced from their low-lying homes for every centimetre rise in sea levels. Loss of glaciers in mountain ranges threatens to wipe out sources of fresh water on which local communities depend, and ice loss could also severely damage the biological health of Arctic and Antarctic waters.

Visitors on a guided tour walk on the melting Nigard glacier (Nigardsbreen) on August 10th, 2020, near Gaupne, Norway. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty
Visitors on a guided tour walk on the melting Nigard glacier (Nigardsbreen) on August 10th, 2020, near Gaupne, Norway. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty

The study, covering 1994 to 2017, surveyed glaciers in South America, Asia, Canada and other regions; Arctic and Antarctic sea ice; ground ice in Antarctica and Greenland; and ice shelves protruding from the Antarctic mainland. The ice loss is equivalent to an ice sheet over the entire landmass of Ireland to a depth of 300 metres.

The findings come a week after scientists at Ohio State University warned that Greenland’s ice sheet may have passed a point of no return with snowfall no longer replenishing the pace of ice melt. It is the world’s second-largest ice body.

Thirty years after the IPCC first warned of global warming resulting from increased greenhouse gas emissions, meteorological data reflects a remorseless rise in global temperatures – from 0.14 degrees Celsius between 1980 and 1999, to 0.2 degrees Celsius in the last 20 years. Scientists warn that it will rise inexorably, and potentially catastrophically, to 0.3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century unless far-reaching action is taken – fossil fuels still supply 80 per cent of the world’s energy.

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