The effects of melting glaciers on the environment have been an issue of concern to environmentalists.
Glaciers are massive quantities of ice that move downward slowly. Glaciers are formed due to the rapid accumulation of snow. Glaciers around the world can range from ice that is several hundred to several thousand years old and provide a scientific record of how climate has changed over time.
Glaciers are typically located in Polar Regions and at high elevations in mountains like the Himalayas where the climate is cool and conducive to the conditions required to form them. This is because they are made up of fallen snow that over many decades compresses down into larger, denser masses of ice.
For a glacier to form, the environment has to be cold enough to have prolonged periods of heavy snow, as they require the snow to remain in one location long enough to transform into ice.
Only when these criteria have been met can these large ice bodies come into existence. And glaciers can range widely in size, from as small as a football field, to dozens or even hundreds of miles long.
Today, about 10% of the land area on Earth is covered with glacial ice. Almost 90% is in Antarctica, while the remaining 10% is in the Greenland ice cap. In a way, they’re leftover vestiges from the last ice age, when ice covered nearly a third of the Earth.
This is evidenced by the fact that many glaciers lie in mountain ranges that have signs of much larger ice masses having once been there.
As for specific classifications, an ice cap is a domed glacier mass that flows in all directions and an ice sheet is an ice cap that exceeds 19,000 miles. Ice acts like a protective cover over the Earth and our oceans. They reflect excess heat into space and keep the planet cooler.
The Arctic region remains colder than the equator because more of the heat from the sun is reflected off the ice, back into space. However, since 1850, the majority of the world’s mountain (alpine) glaciers have been reducing.
Alpine glaciers have lately increased their retreat, while massive ice-sheet glaciers along the coastlines of Greenland and the West Antarctic Peninsula have hastened their flow to the sea.
The majority of incidents of rapid glacier retreat are most likely the outcome of human-caused global climate change. Many glaciers throughout the world have been rapidly melting since the early 1900s. Human activities are at the root of this phenomenon.
Specifically, since the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions have raised temperatures, even higher in the poles, and as a result, glaciers are rapidly melting, calving off into the sea and moving to the land. Glaciers throughout the world can be hundreds to thousands of years old and give a scientific record of how climate has altered over time.
Top 10 Effects of Glacier Melting on the Environment
- Loss of Electricity
- Rising Sea Levels and Flooding
- Breakdown of Ocean-Based Industries
- Consistent Extreme Weather Events
- Freshwater Reduction
- Loss of Coral Reefs
- Loss of Species and Habitat
- Re-contamination of the Environment
- Increase in Global Warming
- Diminish Agricultural Production
1. Loss of Electricity
Several places around the world rely exclusively on the continually flowing water from melting glaciers to generate power. The generation of power will be stopped if the flow of water is reduced or halted.
The modern world cannot function without electricity; therefore, people will fall back on alternative energy sources, most of which pollute the environment and further contribute to global warming.
2. Rising Sea Levels and Flooding
Some locations around the world have ice glaciers at higher altitudes, and they are all melting quickly, the melting is causing and sudden rise in water input to other water bodies such as rivers, lakes, and seas.
The excess water may lead to the creation of new lakes that will continue growing in size. These happenings are very alarming because the water bodies could be very large in volume.
The result is overflowing, which will be a major disaster as it will destroy everything on its way, and render thousands of people homeless.
3. Breakdown of Ocean-Based Industries.
Furthermore, through the disruption of currents and jet streams, there is a large change experienced in the ocean, with consequences like the collapse of fishing industries
4. Consistent Extreme Weather Events
As a result of sea-level rise, storm surges become more prevalent, with warm air and ocean temperatures combining to increase the frequency of coastal storms.
There is also a sort of self-perpetuating climate effect, where the loss of ice leads to warmer global temperatures.
This extends even further than just the climate, as slowing oceanic currents are directly tied to a series of extreme weather occurrences throughout the globe.
Species are also at risk as well as their habitat. There are a lot of living organisms that depend on glaciers as their natural habitat aiding their continuous existence. Some animals require cool temperatures for their day-to-day activities like the blue bear and snow bears.
Also, certain birds depend on fish that are found in freshly melting glaciers for their source of living. The increasing water temperatures and water levels will start affecting aquatic plants.
In consequence, the fish species will reduce and so will the survival of the birds and animals that are dependent on and adapted to the glacier habitats this lead to their extinction, and as they disappear, so does the rich ecological life which serves as their shelter
6. Freshwater Reduction
Freshwater is solely affected as a result of glacier melting. The sense that, when there is limited ice, there is little availability of water. Research indicates that only 2% of the water available is fresh water that people can consume. And over 70% consists of glaciers and snow. Water that has melted gets renewed by turning into ice through cooling to form glaciers.
In lots of areas in the universe, it is the main source of fresh. However, with the increase in population and reducing the mass of glaciers, there will be a serious scarcity of fresh water in the coming years. As there will be little availability of water for human consumption and utilization, whether for domestic purposes, industrial, hydro-electric generation, or agricultural purposes.
7. Loss of Coral Reefs
Coral reefs require sunlight for the process of photosynthesis, which enables their survival. When there is an increase in water levels as a result of glacier melting, enough sunlight will not be able to reach the corals.
This goes a long way to weaken the quality of corals, and probably end up killing them in the long run. Fish species that depend on the coral reefs for food, will also be affected as they tend to die off. Additionally, individuals who rely on fish for food in such areas will be affected.
8. Re-contamination of the Environment
Research says that a lot of chemical pollutants and pesticides which were banned all over the world became airborne and got deposited in the chilly places where glaciers are contained. The rapid melting of glaciers is now discharging the chemicals back into the surroundings and water bodies.
9. Increase in Global Warming
Glacier is essential in the maintenance of the earth’s heat. Their role is significantly felt in the reflection and absorption of the heat on earth. This is to say, that as glaciers keep on thawing, there will be a constant increase in temperatures around the world will at the same rate.
Small ice glaciers in some regions have disappeared thereby exposing the earth to heat. As the earth is not able to deflect as much heat as glaciers can thus heat will keep on increasing, more glaciers continue melting and water levels keep on increasing.
10. Diminish Agricultural Production
Agricultural plants that mainly depend on the rain will most likely not get affected by the melting glaciers. Nevertheless, such places are few and do not contribute to the major portion of agricultural lands. In the dry periods, fresh water from glaciers will be in short supply, causing drying of the land which is not suitable for farming. The consequence will be a reduction in overall agricultural production.
Causes of Glacier Melting
- Human Activities
- The Warming of the Oceans
- Climate Change
- Radiation of the Sun
1. Human Activities
The major reason for the melting of glaciers is because of human activity. The rising temperature of the Earth is the primary reason glaciers have started to melt more, and this climate change can be directly tied back to human activity. Things are moving from bad to that glaciers are practically on the edge of extinction.
Carbon dioxide emissions are one big culprit. The mass amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases produced by the human business, transportation, deforestation, and fossil fuel usage, rise into the air where they stop the heat from the sun from bouncing back out to space. As a result, temperatures rise, and glaciers melt. Melting of Glaciers is not only caused by human activities some other causes.
2. The Warming of the Oceans
These large bodies of water absorb 90% of the Earth’s total warmth, meaning that sea ice floating in the ocean is subject to higher temperatures and naturally melts as a result. This particularly affects the marine ice sheets located near the two global poles and along the coasts of Alaska.
3. Climate Change
Climate change triggered the melting of glaciers threatening the survival of many species including humans. Glaciers are rapidly melting with huge chunks falling off into the sea, while elsewhere the ice begins to retreat to land.
This has technically been going on since the industrial revolution, but as emissions have continued to increase the issue has only become increasingly exacerbated. According to statistics, glacier loss will reach an all-time high in the future. The temperature rises caused by global warming cause glaciers to melt more quickly.
According to studies, human-caused global warming is the primary driver of glacier retreat. To know more about Climate Change, please read our article Climate change and its Causes and Effects.
4. Radiation of the Sun
Glacier melting and retreating are affected by several factors, the most significant of which is the amount of solar energy that strikes the ice. Increased radiation causes glaciers to decrease by increasing melting rates.
Glaciers are disappearing but not gone. Society must act fast if there is an intention to salvage them. Today we have the necessity and responsibility to resolve the issue of the melting of glaciers and the serious consequences. The impact that this event is having on our planet is really dangerous and is improving every day.
The solution to all of this is obvious. Climate change needs to be stopped. If CO2 emissions can be reduced by 45% over the next ten years, before falling to zero by 2050, then glaciers can still be saved.
More strategic measures may also be put in place. Such as the building of large dams around glaciers which could help slow down erosion from Arctic melting. It might also be possible to create artificial icebergs by taking the water from melting glaciers and refreezing and combining them.
Top 10 Effects of Melting Glaciers on the Environment – FAQs
What are the possible effects of melting glaciers on humans?
Sea rise level is one of the most serious impacts of glacier melting as this directly impacts human life. Coastal towns and regions tend to be faced with increasing storm surges thereby becoming permanently flooded. Also, the loss of freshwater from glaciers melting depicts the availability of less water for human activities such as industrial, agricultural, and domestic activities.
How can glaciers cause erosion?
Like flowing water, flowing ice erodes the land and deposits the material elsewhere. This can happen in several ways which include the downward creep of the glacier ice into the sediment, freezing of water in the sediments to the base of the glacier, and squishing the sediment around and beneath the weight of the ice.
How does the melting of glaciers affect water systems?
Glacier acts as a water storage system all through the persistent summer. Constant melting of ice supplies water to the ecosystem throughout the dry season making water available in the perennial season and also for plants and animals.
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Ahamefula Ascension is a Real Estate Consultant, Data Analyst, and Content writer. He is the founder of Hope Ablaze Foundation and a Graduate of Environmental Management in one of the prestigious colleges in the country. He is obsessed with Reading, Research and Writing.