Glacial retreat

High up in the mountains of Himalayas, the Andes, the Alps and the Rockies, we are losing ice every year. Glaciers, the colossal ice sheets which cover around 10% of the Earth’s surface, are melting

Glaciers grow bigger when snow falls faster than it melts. Since the mid-1800s, glaciers all over the world have been shrinking. And thanks to increasing air temperatures this is accelerating year on year.

Mountain tops on a cloudy day
Glaciers in nearly all mountainous regions are disappearing

Examples of glacial retreat

When US President Taft founded Montana's Glacier National Park in 1910, there were estimated to be 150 glaciers. Since then the number has decreased to fewer than 30, and those that remain have shrunk in area by two-thirds . Predictions indicate all glaciers may disappear within 30 years unless immediate, drastic action is taken.

Of course, the problems aren't limited to the United States. The snows of Mount Kilimanjaro have shrunk by eighty percent since 1912. Himalayan glaciers are rapidly retreating, so much so that central and eastern Himalayan glaciers could disappear entirely by 2035. Our arctic sea ice is also thinning and the area covered is decreasing by around ten percent every decade.

What are the impacts?

As the glaciers melt, this adds to rising sea levels. Coastal towns and cities are at risk of flooding and erosion of the coastline accelerates. Islands, villages and even countries which lie just below sea-level will be swallowed whole.

The seawater increase also threatens to contaminate freshwater, which would make it unusable for drinking or feeding crops. Currently, over a billion people across the globe use the runoff water from glaciers as their fresh drinking water. Once there’s no more glacier, and no more meltwater, the people who rely on this will struggle to find enough clean water to drink.