Researchers claim glacier melting has accelerated all around the world

A team of researchers, including scientists from ETH Z├╝rich, have conducted what they call the most comprehensive and accurate study of its kind so far. The team found that almost all the glaciers in the world are becoming thinner and losing ice mass, and the rate of mass loss is increasing. The scientists say that glaciers are sensitive indicators of climate change and one of the most easily observed indicators of that change.

It's the first study to include all of the glaciers in the world, except for the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. The study looked at data on about 220,000 glaciers in total. It has a spatial and temporal resolution described as unprecedented and shows how rapidly glaciers globally have decreased in thickness and mass over the past 20 years.

Between 2000 and 2019, glaciers around the world lost a total of 267 gigatons (a gigaton is a billion tons) of ice per year on average. To put that amount of water in perspective, the researchers say it could submerge the entire surface of Switzerland under six meters of water every year. The rate of ice loss in the glaciers accelerated rapidly between 2015 and 2019, with ice loss between those years increasing to 298 gigatons annually.

Between 2015 and 2019, melting glaciers caused up to 21 percent of the observed rise in sea levels, equating to about 0.74 millimeters per year. The research team says that about half of the rise in sea levels is attributed to the thermal expansion of water as it heats while meltwater from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and changes and terrestrial water storage accounts for the remaining third.

Some of the fastest melting glaciers in the world are located in Alaska, Iceland, and the Alps. However, the team notes that there have been significant changes in mountain glaciers in the Pamir Mountains, the Hindu Kush, and the Himalayas. The team fears the situation in the Himalayas could accelerate, causing countries like India and Bangladesh to face water or food shortages in a few decades. While the rate of melting ice increased on many glaciers between 2000 and 2019, researchers did find some areas where melt rates slowed, including on the east coast of Greenland, Iceland, and Scandinavia.