Business Standard

Climate change: Loss of glaciers will hurt tourism, power supplies and more

The ice masses that formed over millennia from compac­t­ed snow have been melting since the time of the Industrial Revolution, a process that has accelerated in recent years

Climate Change

AP | PTI  |  Jakarta 

File photo of a melting glacier. Photo: Shutterstock

From the southern border of Germany to the highest peaks in Africa, glaciers around the world have served as moneymaking tourist attractions, natural climate records for scientists and beacons of beliefs for indigenous groups.

With many glaciers rapidly melting because of climate ch­a­n­ge, the disappearance of the ice sheets is sure to deal a blow to countries and commu­n­ities that have relied on them for ge­nerations — to make electrici­ty, to draw visitors and to up­h­old ancient spiritual traditions.

The ice masses that formed over millennia from compac­t­ed snow have been melting since the time of the Industrial Revolution, a process that has accelerated in recent years.

The retreat can be seen in Africa, on the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the jagged peaks of the Rwenzori Moun­t­ains jut into the sky above a jungle. The peaks once held more than 40 glaciers, but fe­wer than half of them rem­a­i­n­ed by 2005. Experts believe the last of the mountains’ glaciers could disappear within 20 ye­ars. The disappearance means trouble for land-locked Uga­n­da, which gets nearly half of its power from hydroelect­ricity, including the power plants that rely on steady water flow from the Rwenzori glaciers.

“That hydroelectric power runs much better on more regular flows than it does peak and troughs,” said Richard Tay­lor, hydrogeology profess­or, University College, London.

On the southern edge of Ger­­many’s border with Aus­t­ria, only half a square kilometre of ice remains on five glac­i­ers combined. Experts est­i­m­ate that is 88 per cent less than the amount of ice that existed around 1850, and that the remaining glaciers will melt in 10 to 15 years.

As glaciers vanish, experts say, local ecosystems will begin to change as well— something already being studied at the Humboldt Glacier in Vene­zu­ela, which could disappear wit­hin the next two decades.

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First Published: Wed, November 10 2021. 22:44 IST