Climate change: Speed of glacier retreat worldwide ‘historically unprecedented’, says report

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Researchers have recorded rapid rises in meltwater and alarming rates of glacial retreat, which are accelerating at a pace double that of a decade ago

The Rhone glacier, Switzerland. Sea levels are rising as a consequence of the rapid loss of glacial ice worldwide.
The Rhone glacier, Switzerland. Sea levels are rising as a consequence of the rapid loss of glacial ice worldwide. Photograph: REX Shutterstock

The world’s glaciers are in retreat. The great tongues of ice high in the Himalayas, the Andes, the Alps and the Rockies are going back uphill at ever greater speeds, according to new research.

And this loss of ice is both accelerating and “historically unprecedented”, say scientists who report in the Journal of Glaciology.

In the past year or so, researchers have identified rapid rises in meltwater and alarming cases of glacial retreat in Greenland, West Antarctica, the Canadian and Alaskan coastal mountains, in Europe and in the Himalayan massif. They have also watched glaciers pick up speed downhill. One satellite-based study, confirmed by on-the-ground measurements, of the Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland, confirms that the river of ice is now moving at the rate of 46 metres a day, 17 kilometres a year, which is twice the speed recorded in 2003, which in turn was twice as fast as measured in 1997.

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