Chart of the Day, 22 Jan 2015: Glaciers Going, Going, Gone

Last month, the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) came out with its bi-yearly mass balance estimate. Basically, this is a measure of the amount of melt. As expected, glaciers continue to lose mass:

Annual Mass Balance of Reference Glaciers jpeg

And on a cumulative basis:

Cumulative Mass Balance of Glaciers jepg

Although a little dated (2008), the WGMS also publishes an excellent report called “Global Glacier Changes: facts and figures“. And to get a better sense of what glacier retreat actually looks like check out James Balog’s Ted Talk on his glacier time lapse photo project (which later morphed into the Emmy Award winning documentary Chasing Ice):

Another excellent up-to-date source on glacier developments is the blog “From a Glacier’s Perspective” written by the leading glaciologist Mauri Pelto. Like most climate scientists, Pelto’s analysis is measured and considered; for example, he emphasises that not all glaciers are retreating since each glacier’s situation is unique. Moreover, some glaciers retreat and then find a new equilibrium.

But while this is true for individual glaciers (so providing fodder for climate skeptic web sites), it is not true in aggregate. From Pelto’s contribution to the alpine glacier section in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society’s annual State of the Climate publication:

The declining mass balance trend during a period of retreat indicates alpine glaciers are not approaching equilibrium and retreat will continue to be the dominant terminus response.

It is difficult not to get a little depressed over the fate of the planet when you see images of glacier disintegration such as these (Careser glacier in Italy, from the same BAMS report).

Careser Glacier jpeg

But don’t get depressed, get angry! Lobby your local politicians! Climate change consistently comes at the bottom of public concerns. It should be at the top.

3 responses to “Chart of the Day, 22 Jan 2015: Glaciers Going, Going, Gone

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for all the charts and short form posts recently, finding it very interesting!

    You say lobby local politicians. Sorry for the newbie question but how would one go about doing that? Simply writing a letter? Also what are we lobbying for, aside from getting climate change to the top of the agenda?
    Do you have any particular websites or resources on solutions that are worth campaigning for? I’ve read Sustainable Energy without hot air which comes up with what seem like sensible solutions, but it is a bit outdated and also I’ve read about solar panels (as one example) taking lot’s of toxic chemicals to manufacture and so on. Do you agree with that or is it just a load of bunk from the oil industry funded brigade? If you’ve already written posts on this sort of thing then apologies and please just direct me to them.

    Basically would just like to know what your stance on our way forward should be, at a macro level.

    Thanks again!

    • This is tough. On my part, at a local level I try to raise the issue in the pages of my local newspaper and with the local MP. I think politicians react to issues that they think people care about. At the minute, they don’t think people care about climate change, so the more this is challenged the better.

      On a more macro level, I would say participate in the campaigns run by The carbon disinvestment campaign is an example:

      Sometimes these things appear futile at the beginning, but they do gain momentum. Think of the disinvestment campaign in South Africa. Nelson Mandela credited this with helping end the apartheid regime in South Africa.

      Similarly with the People’s Climate March in London:

      These things do gain momentum. It took a long time before the Iraq war protests culminated in the huge rallies of 2003:,_2003_anti-war_protest

      And you can draw a line (albeit indirectly) between this sentiment and defeat of the government over Syria:

      There was a perception within parliament that the British public would no longer automatically support military intervention abroad.

      I hope there will come a day when parliament believes that the British public will not longer tolerate inaction on climate change.

      That said, it is tough. This is why it has been described as a “super, wicked problem”:

      Click to access Lazarus.pdf

  2. Thanks very much for the advice and the links, looks like I have a lot of reading to do.

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