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April 15th, 2011
A recent study conducted by Welsh scientist and Professor Neil Glasser and colleagues from Aberystwyth University, the University of Exeter, and Stockholm University,shows that the glaciers of Patagonia in South America are melting at a much faster rate than originally thought. The study found that since 1980 the rate of glacial melt has increased by over 100 times than that of the previous 320 year long-term average
Utilizing the spread of glacier debris and vegetation lines from bordering mountainsides, the researchers have been able to determining the amount of ice that has melted since the Little Ice Age ended nearly 350 years ago.
Glaciers have always been a wonder of the natural world. The romantic idea of these icy giants moving across great distances for thousands of years has continually astounded us. They exist as grand monuments who, over a million year pilgrimage, have redefined the landscape they traverse. They are among the last remaining reminders of a natural world that once was. However, despite the respect that these ancient giants command, recent changes in global temperatures have threatened them like never before.
The Patagonia Glaciers are located at in the southern hemisphere at a latitude equal to that of the Alps in the northern hemisphere. The team suggests that if they were to apply their finding there, as opposed to South America, the results would remain more or less the same.
"Previous estimates of sea-level contribution from mountain glaciers are based on very short timescales," commented Glasser of Aberystwyth University. "We took a different approach by using a new method that allows us to look at longer timescales,"
The study has concluded that since the Little Ice Age ended in Patagonia 350 years ago, the 270 glaciers that now cover an area of at least one square kilometer have lost 606 cubic kilometers of ice. While this study dose little else than pin down the rate of glacial lose, it does shed light on the alarming rate at witch the ice has retreated over the past thirty years.
This new method is a much needed break from the cascade of satellite imagery based studies that have previously served as the main visual proof of world climate change. By analyzing the glaciers of Patagonia over such a long period of time, researchers provided a much welcome perspective regarding the relationship between glacier melt and rising sea levels.
Glaciers are one of the world’s chief sources of fresh water. The slowing of receding ice boundaries remains paramount if we hope to reduce the rate of raising sea levels. However, with these new discoveries in mind, the team has been able to estimate sea level rises for more than three centuries.
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