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Disaster assured: Too late to save 1/3 of world's glaciers, say researchers

Every 1 km you drive in your car will make 2 kg of glacier ice to melt after 2100.

Disaster assured: Too late to save 1/3 of world's glaciers, say researchers
A third of the glaciers may not even exist in the year 2100. (File picture)

No matter what humans do to cut down their greenhouse gas emissions, one-third of the world glaciers can no longer be saved, German and Austrian scientists have concluded. But every 1 km you drive in your car today will make 2 kg of glacier ice to melt after the year 2100, their calculations showed.

Scientists studying the impact of climate change on all glaciers in the world found that it is already too late to save 36 percent of the world's glaciers. And this is for all glaciers in the world, not including the massive Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.

This automatically means that sea level rise cannot be prevented, holding grave consequences for coastal communities all over the world. Also, it could lead to catastrophic results for river-based civilisations and communities. If non-polar glaciers shed 36 percent of their weight over the remainder of the 21st century, the amount of water that they would throw into the world's river systems could go up manifold. This could mean floods in some regions and droughts in others, not to mention the destruction of vast portions of river-based life forms.

This would also some glaciers would disappear entirely, while the remaining ones, smaller in size, cannot effectively act as a heat sink. This would cause further warming of the atmosphere, leading to a cascading effect.

Researchers at Germany's University of Bremen and Austria's University of Innsbruck quantified the effects of compliance with climate goals, like the ones settled on in the Paris Climate Change conference, on the progressive melting of glaciers.

"Melting glaciers have a huge influence on the development of sea level rise," said Georg Kaser from the University of Innsbruck. "In our calculations, we took into account all glaciers worldwide - without the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets and peripheral glaciers - and modeled them in various climate scenarios," he added.

"Around 36 per cent of the ice still stored in glaciers today would melt even without further emissions of greenhouse gases," said Ben Marzeion, also from University of Innsbruck. "That means more than a third of the glacier ice that still exists today in mountain glaciers can no longer be saved, even with the most ambitious measures," he said.

The lack of glaciers would however have a greater impact not in the 21st century, but in the next one. Whether the average temperature rises by 2 or only 1.5 degrees Celsius makes no significant difference for the development of glacier mass loss over the next 100 years, they said. However the goal of limiting atmospheric temperature rise to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius does make a difference, the researchers said.

(With inputs from PTI)