Melting glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica have a direct and profound impact on sea-level rise.
Greenland’s ice sheet is losing mass about six times faster than it was a few decades ago. In the past fifty years, the sheet has already shed enough to add about half an inch of water to the world’s oceans. In just this last summer’s heat wave, meltwater — equivalent to over 4 million swimming pools — sloughed into the ocean in a single day.
Antarctica, that frigid expanse of land at the Earth’s Southern pole, is covered by 90% of the planet’s ice. If all of its ice were to melt, sea levels would rise by 190 feet. It is melting at an alarming rate, with the rate of thaw tripling over the past decade and losing 2.71 trillion tons of ice between 1992 and 2017 with half of these losses occurring in the past five years, shrinking to record low levels.
Melting ice is not limited to the poles and is happening around the world: Alaska’s sea ice has all melted; the glaciers of the Himalayas are melting twice as fast as they were in 2000; the Patagonian icefields are a fraction of their previous size. Iceland marked its first loss of a glacier to climate change with a funeral, and the Swiss followed suit with a funeral for the Pizol glacier in the Alps.
And, then there is our own ice melt.
Diana Six, an entomologist at the U. of Montana, recently returned from a trip to Montana’s Glacial National Park, where the 97/98˚heat had decimated the ice. In despair, she said, “I don’t think people realize that climate change is not just a loss of ice. It’s all the stuff that’s dependent on it. The water is too warm for the fish. At some of the lower elevations, glacier lilies were shriveled, lupins didn’t even open. The flowers should extend for another three weeks but they’re already gone. Any insects or birds that depend upon them, like bees or hummingbirds are in trouble, their food is gone. Bird populations have just baked. There have been total losses of a lot of baby birds this year. You see these ospreys and eagles sitting on top of the trees in their nests and those young, they just can’t take the heat.”