JAKARTA, Indonesia (NWN) – From Germany’s southern border to Africa’s highest peaks, glaciers around the world have served as tourist attractions, natural climate records for scientists and beacons of confidence for indigenous groups.
With many glaciers melting rapidly due to climate change, the disappearance of ice sheets is certainly a blow to the countries and communities that have depended on them for generations – to generate electricity, attract visitors and preserve ancient spiritual traditions. in order to maintain.
The mass of ice formed over millennia from frozen ice has been melting since the time of the Industrial Revolution, a process that has accelerated in recent years.
The retreat can be seen in Africa bordering Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the jagged peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains loom in the sky above a green forest. The peaks once contained more than 40 glaciers, but less than half of them remained as of 2005, and the thawing continues. Experts believe that within 20 years the last glaciers in the mountains may disappear.
The disappearance means trouble for land-locked Uganda, which derives nearly half of its power from hydroelectric power, including power plants that rely on stagnant water flows from the Rwenzori glaciers.
“This hydroelectric power operates better at more regular flows than at peaks and troughs,” said Richard Taylor, professor of hydrogeology at University College in London.
A continent away, on the southern edge of Germany’s border with Austria, only half a square kilometer (124 acres) of ice remains on the five glaciers combined. Experts estimate that this is 88% less than the amount of ice that existed around 1850 and that the remaining glaciers will melt in 10 to 15 years.
Christoph Meyer, a senior scientist in the Geodesy and Glaciology group at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Munich, said this is bad news for the regional tourism industry, which depends on glaciers.
“At the moment, tourist agencies can advertise, ‘You can visit some sort of tallest mountains with glaciers in Germany. You can walk on glaciers,'” said Meyer. The people living nearby actually live by tourism … if they lose these glaciers they will be affected.”
The same issue is faced by Tanzania, where experts estimate that Mount Kilimanjaro – the highest mountain in Africa and one of the country’s main tourist attractions – has lost nearly 90% of its glacial ice to melting and sublimation. , a process in which solid ice transitions directly into vapor without first becoming a liquid. The contribution of travel and tourism to the country’s GDP in 2019 was 10.7%.
There are intangible losses for many indigenous communities that live even within sight of glaciers, said Rainer Prinz, a glaciologist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria.
In the history of the local population, “snow in the mountains is the seat of God. It has a very spiritual meaning,” he said, discussing the communities near Mount Kilimanjaro. “I think the loss of glaciers will have an impact on spiritual life as well.”
Glacial-forming ice layers can be thousands of years old and contain year-to-year information about past climatic conditions, including atmospheric composition, temperature variation, and types of vegetation present. Researchers take long tube-like snowflakes from glaciers to “read” these layers.
During a 2010 research trip to the Karstensz Glacier in Indonesia’s West Papua province, oceanographer Dwi Raden Susanto was excited to be part of a team that took a prime sample from distant glaciers. But once the sample was taken, Susanto said, scientists quickly realized that the rapid decline of ice allowed them to obtain records only from the 1960s.
“This is sad because it is not only a loss of local or national heritage for Indonesia, but it is also a loss of climate heritage for the world,” Susanto said.
As glaciers disappear, experts say, local ecosystems will also begin to change—something already being studied. In Venezuela’s Humboldt Glacier, which may disappear in the next two decades.
Experts have warned that the future of smaller glaciers warns of larger glaciers.
For example, while many of the world’s smaller glaciers no longer serve as the main freshwater sources for countries, some large glaciers still do, including Peru, which lost its glacier mass between 2000 and 2016. About 30% of the water was lost, said Lauren Vargo, a research fellow at the Antarctic Research Center in Wellington, New Zealand.
“Those communities are more dependent on glaciers to hold water for their communities,” she said.
Meyer said increased melt would also increase sea levels and change weather patterns – something that is bound to affect society on a global scale.
“The disappearance of these small glaciers is really a warning sign of what is happening in the future,” he said. It should “make you aware that something is going on, which isn’t just peanuts.”
The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. NWN is solely responsible for all content.