The signs of our planet getting warmer are becoming quite clear. The most alarming evidence of climate change is the rapid retreat of Earth’s glaciers.
This reduction is deeply felt in Iceland where scientists are predicting that in 150 to 200 years the “land of fire and ice” will no longer have any glaciers. Lying just below the arctic circle, Iceland is one of the fastest warming places on the planet. Many glaciers have already disappeared, for example Okjökull glacier in west Iceland.
What will happen when the World’s glaciers release the tonnes of water stored as ice?
1. Floods, Avalanches and Landslides
Extreme weather events are becoming more common, leaving humans nervous about the next natural disaster. In Iceland, increased levels of meltwater will result in more floods. Landslides and ice avalanches are sure to become more common as melting further destabilizes the area around glaciers.
2. Animals will lose theire habitats
Animals will lose their habitats while many species are likely to be affected by changes in stream flow and sea level associated with glacier melting, animals that dwell on or near glaciers may be pushed towards extinction by the disappearance of their icy habitats. Far from being barren expanses of ice, glaciers are home to many unique organisms and ecosystems.
3. troubling our oceans
The chemistry of the world’s oceans is changing as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They are becoming more acidic. Recently, experts have begun to find evidence that melting sea ice and glaciers are contributing to these changes and impacting marine life as the addition of fresh water affects the salinity of oceans.
Melting glaciers can also affect ocean currents and their transport of warm and cold water around the globe. Currents are driven by differences in the water’s density, controlled by temperature (thermo) and salinity (haline). This process is known as thermohaline circulation. Meltwater from retreating European and North American glaciers 11,500 years ago had a drastic effect on the circulation of the oceans, Currents were troubled and the Gulf stream changed its course. This led to the cold period called, “Younger Dryas”. Although today’s glaciers are smaller than they were during the last glaciation, meltwater from the retreating glaciers of Greenland and Antarctica may affect the ocean currents of our times with unknown consequences.
4. land lift
While sea level rises, the land is also lifting as the heavy ice caps and ice sheets melt away. In west and southwest Iceland, the land is sinking 4mm per year, but in the southeast it is rising by 6mm per year due to the melting glaciers and loss of weight.
5. More vulcanoes and earthquakes
Some researchers believe that as the big glaciers disappear and land rebounds there may be more volcanic and seismic events in areas currently covered by glaciers. This is particularly concerning for Iceland, a nation that regularly experiences volcanic activity. Many of the large ice caps sit on top of active volcanos along the country’s tectonic rift lines of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
6. rising sea levels
While there are numerous estimates from global experts regarding how much the ocean will rise and when, they all agree that rising sea levels as a result of melting glaciers will have a devastating impact. This map shows how Europe would look if all the glaciers melted causing sea levels to rise by 60 to 70 metres. The White lines are the current coastlines. In this model, most of Reykjavik and many towns and villages along the shore would be under water. 0nly the Perlan’s glass dome and uppermost 10 metres of Hallgrimskirkja church would be visible! However, even a one metre rise in sea level could be catastrophic. For example, half the country of Bangladesh would be submerged displacing some 100 million people.
The international scientific community agrees that the current climate change is the result of increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, directly attributed to human activity. The burning of fossil fuels and deforestation are the most substantial contributors. Rising levels of methane from the intensifying use of domestic animals (cattle) and melting permafrost, in addition to growing levels of air pollution, are also aggravating the problem.