Mountain Digest Highlights Wide-Scale, Varied Effects of Climate Change on Glaciers Worldwide

From discovery of frozen mummies in the Alps to a scientific expedition to Peru's highest peak and an anomalous summer cold air vortex in the Karakoram, unprecedented changes are taking place across the world's glaciers and high mountians.

The effects of climate change on glaciers and in mountain ranges worldwide are increasingly evident, and being felt at the local, national and regional levels. Recent developments have been chronicled in the latest issue of Mountain Climate Change, a thematic digest produced for members of the Mountain Forum, Mountain Partnership and other regional and global science networks.

Stumbling across the exposed remains of frozen, mummified corpses while hiking in the European Alps used to be an extremely rare occurrence. Not anymore – it has become “an all too frequent reality” for mountaineers, alpine enthusiast, and trekkers in recent months. Multiple discoveries have been made in the French and Swiss Alps so far this year, and scientists expect many more will emerge in coming years, according to a news report.

Monitoring and analyzing glacial climate change effects

The bare earth of mountaintops exposed as the glaciers recede

In South America, local residents, scientists and others are increasingly concerned about the impacts receding glaciers in the Andes mountain range will have on lives and livelihoods.

The Andes stretch some 7,000 kilometers (4,350 mi) nearly the entire western edge of the continental landmass, from the equatorial region (in Colombia) deep into Patagonia (the southernmost areas of Chile and Argentina). Glaciers in the Andes have been vital to the development of civilization throughout South America since ancient times.

That includes Peru, which for the first time, on August 8, set a team of researches and experts atop the nation’s highest peak, Mount Huascaran, (6,678 meters above sea level). The team will conduct an eight-day expedition to “make new explorations and get to know this glacier better, in the context of the climate phenomenon affecting the Andes mountain range.”

The executive president of the Inaigem mountain ecosystems institute, Benjamin Morales in a statement explained:

“Climate change is affecting in a growing and dramatic way the world’s mountain ranges, especially Peru’s 18 mountainous zones possessing glaciers."

In contrast to the general global trend, glaciers are expanding in the Karakoram, a 2,000 km (1,243 mi) limb of the Himalayas that spans the border of India, Pakistan, and China. Researchers from the UK’s Newcastle University have identified a summer vortex of cold air as the cause.

The cold air vortex affects temperatures across the entire mountain range in winter but contracts in the summer and affects only the Karakoram and western Pamir mountain range in Central Asia, according to a news report. A summer cooling of temperatures results, which stands in stark contrast to patterns being experienced across the rest of the Himalayas.

Most glaciers in retreat

Glaciers in retreat

“While most glaciers are retreating as a result of global warming, the glaciers of the Karakoram range in South Asia are stable or even growing,” says Newcastle University Professor Hayley Fowler.

“Most climate models suggest warming over the whole region in summer as well as in winter. However, our study has shown that large-scale circulation is controlling regional variability in atmospheric temperatures, with recent cooling of summer temperatures. This suggests that climate models do not reproduce this feature well.”

Glacial retreat, to the point of extinction, is in store in the Alps, climate scientists say.

“Swiss glaciers can no longer be saved,” glaciologist Matthias Huss of ETH Zurich and the University of Freiburg stated in Tagesanzieger. “A slowing of global warming is too late for the Swiss glaciers.

According to Huss’s estimates, Switzerland’s glaciers collectively have shrunk by 50 percent since 1850, from 1,735 square km (669 sq mi (669 sq miles) to 890 sq km (343 sq miles).

Roughly 80-90 percent of what remains will be lost by 2100 even if best-case efforts to reduce human greenhouse gas emissions are realized, according to Tagesanzieger. The organization’s report concludes “that eight of the 10 worst years for glacial retreat on record have taken place since 2008, with no signs of a dramatic turnaround in the near future,” according to the news report.

*Image credits: Wikimedia

Featured image photo by Paul Gilmore on Unsplash

Comments