Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier is referred to as the doomsday glacier because every year it contributes four percent to global sea level rise and acts as a stopper for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. If the glacier were to collapse and take the sheet with it, that would raise global sea levels by around 10 feet. Now, a study published in Science Advances on April 9 warns that there is more warm water circling below the glacier than previously believed, making that collapse more likely.
"Our observations show warm water impinging from all sides on pinning points critical to ice-shelf stability, a scenario that may lead to unpinning and retreat," the study authors wrote. Pinning points are areas where the ice connects with the bedrock that provides stability, Earther explained.
The new paper is based on a 2019 expedition where an autonomous submarine named Ran explored the area beneath the glacier in order to measure the strength, salinity, oxygen content and temperature of the ocean currents that move beneath it, the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration explained in a press release.
"These were the first measurements ever performed beneath the ice front of Thwaites glacier," Anna Wåhlin, lead author and University of Gothenburg oceanography professor, explained in the press release. "Global sea level is affected by how much ice there is on land, and the biggest uncertainty in the forecasts is the future evolution of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet."
This isn't the first instance revealing the presence of warm water beneath the glacier. In January 2020, researchers drilled a bore hole through the glacier and recorded temperature readings of more than two degrees Celsius above freezing, EcoWatch reported at the time.
However, Ran's measurements were taken earlier and allow scientists to understand the warmer water's movement in more detail. Scientists now know that water as warm as 1.05 degrees Celsius is circulating around the glacier's vulnerable pinning points.
"The worry is that this water is coming into direct contact with the underside of the ice shelf at the point where the ice tongue and shallow seafloor meet," Alastair Graham, study co-author and University of Southern Florida associate professor of geological oceanography, told Earther. "This is the last stronghold for Thwaites and once it unpins from the sea bed at its very front, there is nothing else for the ice shelf to hold onto. That warm water is also likely mixing in and around the grounding line, deep into the cavity, and that means the glacier is also being attacked at its feet where it is resting on solid rock."
While this sounds grim, the fact that researchers were able to obtain the data is crucial for understanding and predicting the impacts of the climate crisis.
"The good news is that we are now, for the first time, collecting data that will enable us to model the dynamics of Thwaite's glacier. This data will help us better calculate ice melting in the future. With the help of new technology, we can improve the models and reduce the great uncertainty that now prevails around global sea level variations," Wåhlin said in the press release.
- Scientists Identify Tipping Points for Antarctica Glacier - EcoWatch ›
- Record Warm Water Measured Beneath Antarctica's 'Doomsday ... ›
- Antarctica's 'Doomsday Glacier' Is Starting to Crack - EcoWatch ›
By Rishika Pardikar
Search operations are still underway to find those declared missing following the Uttarakhand disaster on 7 February 2021.
"As of now [18 March], we have found 74 bodies and 130 people are still missing," said Swati S. Bhadauria, district magistrate in Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India. Chamoli is the district where a hanging, ice-capped rock broke off from a glacier and fell into a meltwater- and debris-formed lake below. The lake subsequently breached, leading to heavy flooding downstream.
The disaster is attributed to both development policies in the Himalayas and climate change. And as is common with climate-linked disasters, the most vulnerable sections of society suffered the most devastating consequences. Among the most vulnerable in Chamoli are its population of migrant construction workers from states across India.
Of the 204 people dead or missing, only 77 are from Uttarakhand, and "only 11 were not workers of the two dam companies," Bhadauria noted. The two dams referred to are the 13.2-megawatt Rishiganga Hydroelectric Project and the 520-megawatt Tapovan Vishnugad Hydropower Plant, which has been under construction since 2005. The flash floods in Chamoli first broke through the Rishiganga project and then, along with debris accumulated there, broke through the Tapovan Vishnugad project 5–6 kilometers downstream.
"Both local people and others from Bihar, Punjab, Haryana, Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh…from all over India work on these two [hydroelectric] projects," said Atul Sati, a Chamoli-based social activist with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation.
Sati noted that the local community suspects the number of casualties from the Uttarakhand disaster may be higher than reported because not all the projects' migrant workers—including those from bordering countries like Nepal—have been accounted for by the construction companies and their subcontractors.
The National Thermal Power Corporation is the state-owned utility that owns the Tapovan Vishnugad project. "NTPC has given building contracts to some companies," Sati explained. "These companies have given subcontracts to other companies. What locals are saying is that there are more [than 204] who are missing. They say there were [migrant] workers from Nepal."
NTPC and the Kundan Group (the corporate owner of the Rishiganga project) have not responded to repeated requests for comment.
No Early-Warning System
"NTPC did not have a proper early-warning system," said Mritunjay Kumar, an employee with the government of the east Indian state of Bihar. Kumar's bother, Manish Kumar, was a migrant worker employed with Om Infra Ltd., an NTPC subcontractor. On the day of the disaster, Manish was working in one of the silt flushing tunnels of the Tapovan project and lost his life in the flooding.
Mritunjay Kumar noted that it "would have taken time" for the floodwater and debris to flow from the meltwater lake to the Rishiganga project and then to the Tapovan project. "Even if workers knew 5 minutes in advance," he said, "lives could have been saved."
An advance notice "would have given [Tapovan] workers at least 5–6 critical minutes," agreed Hridayesh Joshi, an environmental journalist from Uttarakhand who reported from Chamoli after the disaster. "Many people made videos; they shouted and alerted people on site. If there was a robust early-warning system, many more lives could have been saved…even if not all, at least some would have escaped."
"It is true that this was an environmental, climate change driven disaster. But NTPC had not taken any measures to save their workers from such disasters," Kumar said. "They [NTPC] hadn't even installed emergency exits for tunnel workers. The only proper exit was a road which faces the river. If NTPC had installed a few temporary iron staircases, many people could have climbed out."
Kumar noted that the Tapovan project has been under construction since before the 2013 Kedarnath disaster, in which more than 5,000 people lost their lives as rainfall-driven floods ravaged northern India. "If they [NTPC] knew that such disasters will happen, why didn't they install early-warning systems?" Kumar asked. "Scientists have been warning about climate change and [dam and road] constructions in the Himalayas from a very long time. Obviously, NTPC was aware."
This story originally appeared in Eos and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Previously, researchers thought they could measure ice melt simply by looking at the amount of meltwater sitting on top of glaciers and in moulins — shafts in the glacier that empty rivers from the surface to the interior, Earther explained. But the new study, published in Geophysical Research Letters on Monday, found that a glacier's speed increased when water pressure rapidly changed beneath the ice sheet, NASA explained.
"These findings will help to refine ice sliding models, which are critically important for predicting future ice sheet contributions to global sea level rise," Laurence Smith, study coauthor and Brown University environmental studies professor, told Earther.
The Greenland ice sheet is extremely important when it comes to global sea level rise. The size of Mexico, it currently contributes more to rising sea levels than any other source, NASA reported. If all of Greenland's ice sheet were to melt, it would increase water levels by 20 feet, according to Earther.
"The number one reason we are here is all about global sea level rise," Smith said in a video documenting the research. "Greenland is the single largest melting chunk of ice in the world. What really matters is how much of that water in the ice sheet gets out to the ocean."
To better understand the dynamics driving this melt, Smith and his team traveled to the Russell Glacier in southwestern Greenland in 2016 and studied a glacial river, NASA said. The researchers recorded the forward motion of the glacier itself, the amount of meltwater pouring into the moulin and the amount of meltwater pouring out from beneath the glacier at the water's edge. They determined that changes in subterranean water pressure were driving the glacier's overall speed.
"Even if the cavities are small, as long as the pressure is ramping up very fast, they will make the ice slide faster," Smith explained.
NASA Glaciologist Dr. Lauren Andrews compared a glacier moving over subterranean meltwater to car tires sliding on a wet road.
"If you have a rapid perturbation of water going into the subglacial system, you overwhelm the system, and so you create essentially a layer of water at the interface that's not contained in channels or cavities anymore," Andrews said.
The way that water pressure drives glacier speed had never been studied in the field before, NASA said. This new research now adds 168 hours of "rare in situ" measurements to understand the dynamics of glacial rivers, which had previously been overlooked.
"In 2015 when we started this study, there was surprisingly little attention paid to the hydrology of streams and rivers on the ice sheet, especially inland away from the ice edge, and we felt that this was a critical scientific gap," Smith said in the video.
The research supports the team's initial feeling.
"These findings affirm the importance of supraglacial rivers to subglacial water pressure and ice dynamics, even in relatively thick ice," the researchers wrote.
- Greenland Ice Sheet Melting Faster Than at Any Time in Last 12,000 ... ›
- Greenland's Ice Sheet Has Reached 'Point of No Return' - EcoWatch ›
- Record Shrinking of Greenland's Ice Sheet Raises Sea Levels ... ›
This has been a matter of debate and concern for scientists. Now, for the first time, researchers have identified the tipping points that would send the glacier into an irreversible retreat and published their findings in The Cryosphere on March 25. This retreat is a big deal because it could lead to the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsing and sea levels rising almost 10 feet.
"The possibility of Pine Island Glacier entering an unstable retreat has been raised before, but this is the first time that this possibility is rigorously established and quantified," Hilmar Gudmundsson, study author and University of Northumbria professor of glaciology and extreme environments, said in a press release.
Our @NUGeog researchers have confirmed for the first time that Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica could cross t… https://t.co/o84C7Mmrei— Northumbria Uni (@Northumbria Uni)1617285857.0
West Antarctica is feeling the impacts of the climate crisis more than East Antarctica. The West Antarctic Peninsula is warming five times faster than the global average, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research found. In West Antarctica, the Pine Island Glacier and its neighbor, the Thwaites Glacier, are two of the glaciers most impacted by warming temperatures, and there is evidence that the ice shelf supporting them is beginning to crack.
Even now, the two glaciers are responsible for around 10 percent of global sea level rise, the press release explained, which is why researchers are so concerned about their eventual collapse. However, while scientists have raised the possibility of collapse before, they have not been able to identify if or how it would happen.
Until now. The University of Northumbria team developed an ice-flow model that enables them to identify key tipping points for the glacier.
"Many different computer simulations around the world are attempting to quantify how a changing climate could affect the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, but identifying whether a period of retreat in these models is a tipping point is challenging," Dr. Sebastian Rosier, study lead author and a Vice-Chancellor's Research Fellow in Northumbria's Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences, said in the press release. "However, it is a crucial question and the methodology we use in this new study makes it much easier to identify potential future tipping points."
Using their model, the researchers identified three potential tipping points for the Pine Island Glacier.
"The third and final event, triggered by an ocean warming of approximately 1.2 degrees C from the steady-state model configuration, leads to a retreat of the entire glacier that could initiate a collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet," the study authors warned.
While Gudmundsson was pleased with the results on a scientific level, they also alarmed him on a human level.
"[T[he findings of this study also concern me. Should the glacier enter unstable irreversible retreat, the impact on sea level could be measured in meters, and as this study shows, once the retreat starts it might be impossible to halt it," he said.
By Stuart Braun
The melting of the polar ice caps has often been portrayed as a tsunami-inducing Armageddon in popular culture. In the 2004 disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, the warming Gulf Stream and North Atlantic currents cause rapid polar melting. The result is a massive wall of ocean water that swamps New York City and beyond, killing millions in the process. And like the recent polar vortex in the Northern Hemisphere, freezing air then rushes in from the poles to spark another ice age.
The premise is obviously ridiculous. Or is it? Rapid glacial retreat in Alaska in 2015 did in fact trigger a huge landslide and a mega tsunami that was nearly 650 feet high when it hit shore. Few knew or cared because it luckily happened at the end of the Earth where no one was living.
Many of us might believe we won't be directly impacted by the breakup of trillions of tons of ice due to global heating. We figure that unless we live on a small island in the Pacific, or have a house on the beach, it's not our problem.
Or Is It?
While it's true that the glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets covering 10% of the Earth's land mass are mostly in the middle of nowhere, their rapid breakup has a cascading effect.
Consider how all the extra fresh water in the ocean is diluting salt levels. And how that messes with the balance of the Gulf Stream, one of the world's most important ocean currents. The result is climate extremes, especially tropical storms and hurricanes in places like the Gulf of Mexico, but also more frequent floods and droughts on both sides of the Atlantic. It's gonna suck for a lot of people.
To put this meltdown in context, the rate of ice sheet retreat has increased nearly 60% since the 1990s. That's a 28 trillion ton net loss of ice between 1994 and 2017. Antarctica's epic ice sheet, the world's largest, and the world's mountain glaciers have suffered half of this loss.
OK, That Sounds Like a Lot — But So What?
Again, it's the domino effect that's worrying. With temperatures rising twice as fast in the Arctic — the world's air conditioner — than anywhere else on the planet, the heat is not just melting ice. It's also weakening atmospheric air currents known as the jet stream. In other words, more bad news for the weather.
The polar vortexes that have been freezing Europe and North America in recent years are related to a weakened polar jet stream — a scenario that triggered the sudden ice age in The Day After Tomorrow.
The cold might be welcome as the planet heats up, but here's the thing: Arctic regions are heating up, too. Which means the ice that's supposed to be reflecting the sun's energy away from Earth isn't as much anymore, leaving the sea to absorb this heat.
No surprise then that in 2018 the winter ice sheet in the Bering Sea bordering Alaska was at its lowest levels in over 5,000 years.
Fish, sea bird, seal and polar bear habitats are also disappearing with the ice. Indigenous communities in the Arctic who once hunted in a thriving frozen ecosystem are being upended — their houses are also falling in the sea as the lack of ice causes the coast to erode.
Sure, it's an underpopulated part of the world. But consider also the rapid thaw of permafrost on the Siberian tundra. One of the world's biggest carbon sinks, the tundra is now releasing greenhouse gases like methane that were long trapped below the frost.
Some scientists have predicted that by century's end, 40% of permafrost regions will have disappeared, meaning they will no longer retain, but will also release carbon dioxide — and we're talking more than is already in the atmosphere right now. As global heating is turbocharged, bye bye to more ice.
Which leads us to the elephant in the room: rising sea levels.
How Bad Could Rising Sea Levels Get?
So let's start with the worst-case scenario — and remember the culprit here would be ice sheets and glaciers on land.
If the fast-retreating Antarctic ice sheet, the world's largest, completely melted, the world's oceans would rise by about 60 meters (about 200 feet). That would be Armageddon and London, Venice, Mumbai and New York would become aquariums.
Don't panic, though, this won't happen any time soon. But if emissions aren't sufficiently scaled back to mitigate climate change, some researchers reckon oceans will definitely rise by at least 2 meters by the end of the century. That's still enough to swamp the several hundred million people living below 5 meters above sea level. Another 350 million or so living higher up would have to relocate to escape regular coastal flooding.
Can't People Just Move?
Maybe, but that wouldn't be the end of it. The world's mountain glaciers, which number roughly 200,000, are melting much faster than they can accumulate these days. Problem is, though they only cover less than 0.5% of the Earth's landmass, these "water towers" provide fresh water to about a quarter of the world's population.
Glaciers also feed the rivers that irrigate the crops which hundreds of millions of people across Asia, South America and Europe depend on for their survival. So without them, many people will suffer from both thirst and hunger. Scientists say water tower retreat has put almost 2 billion people at risk of water scarcity.
Right now, cities like Santiago in Chile are watching a big part of their drinking water supply literally dry up as glaciers in the nearby Andes retreat. Meanwhile, the European Alps that supply so much fresh water across the region have shrunk by about half since 1900 and will be almost ice free by century's end if nothing more is done to curb warming.
OK, Is There Anything That We Can Do?
Like global heating in general, the best way to mitigate the meltdown is to stop polluting the atmosphere with global warming-inducing carbon.
Of course, the process can't be reversed overnight. Even if people across the world stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow, one-third of the world's remaining glaciers would still disappear.
So to save some amount of precious polar and glacial ice, we need to avoid the temperature rise of over 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) that the UN says is inevitable if governments don't step up climate targets. If the world can decarbonize by 2050, it might be possible to preserve around one-third of the current glacial mass by century's end. That would take both government action and a radical commitment to reduce our individual carbon footprint.
The future remains uncertain. But it's likely that if melting isn't slowed real soon, disaster movie scenarios might not look so ridiculous to future generations.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By Stacy Kish
Many of the botanicals used in traditional medicines and to flavor spirits, from absinthe to eau de vie, grow in alpine regions near the toes of glacial ice. As the planet warms and glacial ice retreats, this unique environment is changing and altering the diversity of the plant community.
An Italian team of researchers explored the physical and biological factors that cascade through an ecosystem as glaciers retreat. The results, published in the January issue of Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, are not promising for your favorite flavored liquors.
"Glacial retreat is a double-edged sword," said Gianalberto Losapio, a postdoctoral research fellow in ecology at Stanford University and first author on the study. "Habitat opens as a direct consequence of losing the glacier, but diversity decreases as competition increases from the species that persist."
The researchers examined published data sets on plant species distribution and leaf traits along with unpublished, original data on environmental conditions at four locations—Vedretta d'Amola glacier, Western Trobio glacier, Rutor glacier, and the Vedretta di Cedec glacier forelands—within the Italian Alps.
They applied hierarchical joint species distribution models to the data, consisting of 117 plant species, to evaluate how biodiversity changes following glacial retreat. They defined the age of each plant community on the basis of both distance from the glacier front and geochronological information obtained from dated moraines. For instance, a community found between the toe of glacial ice and a moraine dated to 1980 is approximately 20 years old.
Glacial retreat occurs when the ice mass is not balanced, that is, when more ice is lost during the summer months than forms during the winter months. Globally, glaciers have been retreating since the Little Ice Age, about 170 years ago.
Biodiversity Dwindles with Climate Change
The researchers found that the loss of glaciers affects more than half (51%) of plants in the study. As ice retreats, plants initially practice cooperation to enhance collective growth. As time passes, competition increases, leaving fewer dominant plants and decreased biodiversity. This outcome has far-reaching consequences.
More than 20% of the species studied face local extinction. The researchers predicted that the study area will experience more than 10 local extinctions, including Artemisia genipi, commonly called wormwood and a key ingredient in absinthe and génépi.
"As humans, we are so shortsighted, climate change [not only] is negatively affecting…our planet and environment, but also threatens the loss of centuries of cultural traditions as bottled in spirits made from the disappearing wild génépi," said Brenton Engel, founder of Letherbee Distillers in Chicago.
This study clarifies the dynamics at play as species respond to the rapidly changing environmental conditions as the planet warms. The study's results will aid conservationists as they work to allocate limited resources in the preservation of key species at risk of local extinction.
"The plants in the study are central for ecological networks, providing food and habitat for pollinators and predators. The loss of these species will cascade through the network, and we could see secondary extinctions," said Losapio. "These results are incredibly relevant scientifically and for society."
This story originally appeared in Eos and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
By Bud Ward
"Meltdown" – a new documentary featuring renowned art photographer Lynn Davis and climate communications expert Anthony Leiserowitz, made its online debut February 12. Shot on location in Greenland and directed and produced by Academy Award nominees Fred Golding and Mike Tollin, the 67-minute video differs significantly from many other videos on Greenland, its glaciers, and ice sheet.
"It's not a scientific documentary. It's not an advocacy film. It's not a Hollywood disaster movie," Leiserowitz says.
He describes it instead as "an intimate exploration of art and science, beauty and tragedy, the personal and the global, set amidst the massive and spectacularly beautiful icebergs breaking off of Greenland at an accelerating rate."
The film is available for rent and/or purchase on a number of streaming services, including Amazon, Apple iTunes, Vudu, Xfinity, and other cable networks nationwide (not on Netflix). Rental and purchase prices vary somewhat among those services. The official trailer, embedded below, is available on YouTube.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
A piece of Himalayan glacier in the Indian state of Uttarakhand broke off and fell into a river Sunday, triggering an avalanche and floods that have killed at least 20 people so far, while nearly 200 remain missing.
"This looks very much like a climate change event as the glaciers are melting due to global warming," Dr. Anjal Prakash, a lead researcher with the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told CBS News.
The collapse occurred after 10 p.m. local time when a piece of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off, sending flood waters cascading down the Dhauli Ganga river valley, CNN reported. The flood destroyed the Rishiganga Power project, a small 13.2-megawatt dam, and severely damaged a 520-megawatt dam under construction, trapping workers in tunnels. The flooding also forced villagers to evacuate downstream.
"It came very fast, there was no time to alert anyone," Sanjay Singh Rana, who lives in the riverside Raini village, told Reuters. "I felt that even we would be swept away."
Most of the dead and missing worked at the two hydroelectric projects. About 21 people are missing from the Rishiganga dam, and another 150 people are missing from the larger project, according to CBS News. Workers are trapped inside two tunnels at the latter, CNN reported. Rescuers freed 12 people from the smaller tunnel on Sunday, but are still trying to extricate 35 people believed to be trapped inside the larger tunnel.
"Some people inside the tunnel are probably alive or half alive, we are trying to rescue them," Ashok Kumar, Uttarakhand state's director general of police told CBS News.
Rescue workers were able to clear the mouth of the tunnel on Monday, according to CNN.
Every life matters, every hand helps! We carries out rescue operations in #Chamoli, Uttarakhand @Ashokkumarips https://t.co/Dpzbm5EsJX— Uttarakhand Police (@Uttarakhand Police)1612705345.0
Meanwhile, 20 bodies have been recovered from the region, Kumar told CNN. The flooding also knocked over trees and buildings and cut off around 2,500 people in 13 villages. However, rescue workers had reached all of the impacted villages by Monday afternoon, Kumar told CNN. Authorities also said on Monday that the threat of new flooding had ended, according to CBS.
The incident raises questions about developing a region that is vulnerable to climate change. The IPPC's Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere warned that glacier retreat could increase the risk of landslides, floods and cascading events in regions where these disasters were previously unheard of, the Times of India reported.
Despite this, there has been a push to build more dams in the region, which environmentalists in India have warned against.
"This disaster again calls for a serious scrutiny of the hydropower dams building spree in this eco-sensitive region," Ranjan Panda, a Combat Climate Change Network volunteer, told Reuters. "The government should no longer ignore warnings from experts and stop building hydropower projects and extensive highway networks in this fragile ecosystem."
At the same time, IPCC's Prakash called for more efforts to monitor climate change impacts in the region.
"[T]his event actually shows how vulnerable we could be," he told the Times of India.
The disaster comes about eight years after the "Himalayan tsunami" of 2013, when heavy monsoon rains triggered floods and landslides that killed nearly 6,000 people in Uttarakhand, Reuters reported. However, Sunday's incident did not occur during the rainy season, and the weather report for the region showed no record of rain or snow, Dr. Mohd Farooq Azam, assistant professor of glaciology and hydrology at IIT Indore, told the Times of India.
"There is no doubt that global warming has resulted in the warming of the region," Azam said.
New research shows global warming caused by human activity is to blame for a shrinking Andean glacier that threatens to flood 120,000 people and could be used to establish legal liability for polluters.
The study, published in Nature Geoscience on Thursday by scientists at the University of Oxford and the University of Washington, found human activity caused the vast majority of temperature increases in the region.
Those warmer temperatures are turning glacial lakes like Lake Palcacocha, high in the Peruvian Andes, into flooding time bombs.
The study is expected to impact a lawsuit brought by Peruvian farmer Saúl Luciano Lliuya against Germany's largest electricity provider RWE for $20,000 to cover the costs of preventing damage from a potential outburst from the lake; an amount based on RWE's proportional contribution to total greenhouse gas pollution.
Lliuya and those supporting his lawsuit argue the study supports RWE's contribution to, and thus liability for, the increased risk of glacial flooding.
"A number of new lawsuits are attempting to hold high-emission companies responsible for the costs of climate change," Prof Thom Wetzer, the founding director of the Oxford Sustainable Law Program, told the Guardian.
"It is now up to litigators to translate the science into high-impact legal arguments."
For a deeper dive:
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
"It was a surprise to see such a large increase in just 30 years," said Thomas Slater, a study co-author. There have been huge efforts to study ice loss research in individual regions of the world, allowing the researchers to combine data to assess ice loss worldwide. Their findings show that Arctic ice is disappearing the fastest, with 7.6 trillion tons melting between 1994 to 2017. The report also found land ice melt alone contributed to a global average sea level rise of 3.5 centimeters. However, land ice is only a small portion of the world's ice. Sea ice shelves, which float on water, are disappearing quickly. If they collapse, the land ice (glaciers) some sea ice shelves hold in place would be released and could accelerate sea level rise for centuries.
As reported by The Guardian:
The greatest quantities of ice were lost from floating ice in the polar regions, raising the risk of a feedback mechanism known as albedo loss. White ice reflects solar radiation back into space – the albedo effect – but when floating sea ice melts it uncovers dark water which absorbs more heat, speeding up the warming further in a feedback loop.
Glaciers showed the next biggest loss of ice volume, with more than 6tn tonnes lost between 1994 and 2017, about a quarter of global ice loss over the period. The shrinking of glaciers threatens to cause both flooding and water shortages in some regions, because as large volumes melt they can overwhelm downstream areas, then shrunken glaciers produce less of the steady water flow needed for agriculture.
Inès Otosaka, report co-author and a PhD researcher at the University of Leeds centre for polar observation and modelling, said: "As well as contributing to global mean sea level rise, mountain glaciers are also critical as a freshwater resource for local communities. The retreat of glaciers around the world is therefore of crucial importance, at both local and global scales."
For a deeper dive:
Published on Monday in Nature Communications, the study found that phosphorus, a mineral found in dust, is a key nutrient for an extensive glacier algae bloom on Greenland's ice sheet, known as the "dark zone." As the algae grow, the ice becomes darker, decreasing its ability to reflect sunlight and causing the ice to melt faster and sea levels to rise.
"It's important to understand the controls on algal growth because of their role in ice sheet darkening," Dr. Jenine McCutcheon, who led the study published in Nature Communications, told the University of Leeds. "Although algal blooms can cover up to 78 percent of the bare ice surfaces in the Dark Zone, their abundance and size can vary greatly over time," Dr. McCutcheon added.
Since 2000, the dark zone's melting season has "progressively started earlier and lasted longer," according to the University of Leeds. Glacier algal blooms are responsible for up to 13 percent of surface melting in this region, the study noted.
But until recently little was known about how these algal blooms developed.
Researchers found that phosphorus can cause the photosynthesis rate of the ice algae to improve significantly, McCutcheon said, according to the University of Leeds.
Although researchers examined dust sourced from local rock, they warned that dust can be transported thousands of miles by the wind.
"As dryland areas in northerly latitudes become even drier under climate change, we can expect to see more dust transported and deposited on the Greenland Ice Sheet, further fueling algal blooms," Associate Professor Dr. Jim McQuaid, who co-authored the study, noted.
"The findings of this study will improve how we predict where algal blooms will happen in the future, and help us gain a better understanding of their role in ice sheet albedo reduction and enhanced melting," Dr. McCutcheon added.
Researchers are also asking how these algal blooms will grow and darken in a warming climate.
"In 2019 our glaciers and ice sheets [are] already being darkened by dust, soot, and ash from our industrial world, which provides the perfect home for algae to flourish," Alexandre Anesio, a professor in Arctic biogeochemistry from Aarhus University, who was not affiliated with the University of Leeds study, told The Guardian. "As the organisms reproduce, they melt even more snow, which in turn allows them to proliferate again. So it's like a cycle. A very bad one."
Darkening ice is not just occurring on Greenland's ice sheets, according to The Guardian. It's happening globally, Professor Liane Benning of the German Research Center for Geosciences noted, also impacting the Alpine and Himalayan glaciers.
In Western Canada, wildfires fueled by climate change are also leaving ash on glaciers, staining the ice, creating habitats for algae and "accelerating the warming process in a feedback loop," Reuters reported.
"To be honest, I'm massively worried," Anesio told The Guardian. As the planet warms, researchers are rushing to find answers on glacial melting and its impact on biodiversity.
"I just hope that we are not crossing that tipping point because I don't think humans can adapt to the rates of changing climates at the moment," Anesio added.
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A first-of-its-kind study has examined the satellite record to see how the climate crisis is impacting all of the planet's ice.
The answer? Quite a lot. The rate of worldwide ice loss has increased by more than 60 percent in the past three decades, a study published in The Cryosphere on Monday found.
"The ice sheets are now following the worst-case climate warming scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change," Dr. Thomas Slater, study lead author and research fellow at Leeds' Center for Polar Observation and Modeling, said in a University of Leeds press release. "Sea-level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century."
Previous studies have used satellite data to assess ice loss from individual sources, such as polar ice caps, The Guardian explained. However, this is the first one to consider all sources of ice loss. The study found that the world lost around 31 trillion U.S. tons between 1994 and 2017. During that time, the rate of ice loss also increased 65 percent, from 0.9 trillion U.S. tons a year to 1.4 trillion U.S. tons a year. Ice loss from ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland largely contributed to that number, the press release stated.
The paper also broke down which sources had lost the most ice in total terms between 1994 and 2017. Amounts are approximate and in U.S. tons:
- Arctic sea ice: 8.4 trillion
- Antarctic ice shelves: 7.2 trillion
- Mountain glaciers: 6.7 trillion
- Greenland ice sheet: 4.2 trillion
- Antarctic ice sheet: 2.8 trillion
- Southern Ocean sea ice: one trillion
The study also examined the leading cause of ice melt for each source, according to the press release. For Arctic sea ice and mountain glaciers, rising atmospheric temperatures have driven melting. For the Antarctic ice sheet, rising ocean temperatures have been the main cause. And for the Greenland ice sheet and Antarctic ice shelves, melting has been increased by a combination of the two.
All told, melting from Antarctica, Greenland and mountain glaciers have increased sea levels by around 34.6 millimeters, the study found. While this might not sound like a lot, every centimeter of sea level rise puts around a million people in low-lying areas at risk of being flooded out of their homes, the press release said. Moreover, sea level rise isn't the only threat from melting ice.
"As well as contributing to global mean sea level rise, mountain glaciers are also critical as a freshwater resource for local communities," Inès Otosaka, report co-author and Leeds PhD researcher, said in the press release. "The retreat of glaciers around the world is therefore of crucial importance at both local and global scales."
Melting Arctic sea ice is also a problem because it reduces the ice cover that reflects solar energy back into space.
"As the sea ice shrinks, more solar energy is being absorbed by the oceans and atmosphere, causing the Arctic to warm faster than anywhere else on the planet," Dr. Isobel Lawrence, coauthor and Leeds research fellow, explained in the press release. "Not only is this speeding up sea ice melt, it's also exacerbating the melting of glaciers and ice sheets which causes sea levels to rise."
Climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, who was not involved in the study, called it a "thorough accounting of how ice is disappearing from the Arctic, Antarctic and mountain ranges."
However, he disagreed with the paper's claim that the melting of floating sea ice does not contribute directly to sea level rise. He pointed to a 2007 paper that found that if all currently floating sea ice were to melt, sea levels would rise around four centimeters. Slater agreed that the language should be changed to make it clear that melting floating sea ice does slightly contribute to sea level rise.
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