A thaw of the world's glaciers has accelerated to a new record with some of the biggest losses occuring in Europe, said the United Nations' Environment Programme (UNEP) on Sunday, pointing to a worrying indicator of climate change.
"Meltdown in the mountains," UNEP said in a statement, saying that a retreat of glaciers from the Andes to the Arctic should add urgency to U.N. negotiations on working out a new treaty by the end of 2009 to combat global warming.
"Data from close to 30 reference glaciers in nine mountain ranges indicate that between the years 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 the average rate of melting and thinning more than doubled," it said.
Some of the biggest losses were in Europe -- in the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Nordic region -- according to the UNEP-backed World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.
"The latest figures are part of what appears to be an accelerating trend with no apparent end in sight," WGMS director Wilfried Haeberli said in a statement.
The estimates, based on measuring the thickness of glacier ice, indicated an average loss of about 1.5 metres (5 ft) in 2006, up from just over half a metre in 2005. UNEP said that the thinning was the fastest since monitoring began.
Since 1980, glaciers have thinned by about 11.5 metres in a retreat blamed by the U.N. Climate Panel mainly on human use of fossil fuels.
The thaw could disrupt everything from farming -- millions of people in Asia depend on seasonal melt water from the Himalayas -- and power generation to winter sports. The thaw could also raise world sea levels.
UNEP said glaciers were among the clearest indicators of global warming. "There are many canaries emerging in the climate change coal mine. The glaciers are perhaps among those making the most noise," said Achim Steiner, head of UNEP.
Among big losers, Norway's Breidalblikkbrea glacier thinned by almost 3.1 metres during 2006 compared with 0.3 metres in 2005 and France's Ossoue glacier in the Pyrenees thinned by nearly 3 metres versus around 2.7 metres in 2005. In the Alps, Italy's Malavalle glacier thinned by 1.4 metres in 2006 versus 0.9 in 2005. In Austria, the Grosser Goldbergkees glacier thinned by 1.2 metres in 2006 versus 0.3 in 2005.
Of almost 30 reference glaciers only one -- the Echaurren Norte in Chile -- thickened in 2006 compared to 2005. The WGMS monitors about 100 glaciers in total.
Some glaciers, such as Bolivia's Chacaltaya glacier, Canada's Place glacier, India's Hamtah glacier and the U.S. Daniels and Yawning glaciers shrank less in 2006 than in 2005.
Steiner said that governments had agreed to work out by the end of 2009 a new pact to succeed the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol, which binds developed nations except the United States to curb emissions of greenhouse gases.
"Otherwise, and like the glaciers, our room for manoeuvre and the opportunity to act may simply melt away," he said. A first set of U.N. negotiations on a new climate treaty will be held in Bangkok from March 31-April 4.
Date created : 2008-03-16