A new study indicates that the speed of glacier melt has “doubled over the past two decades” – far faster than anticipated or previously measured.
In the study, published in the journal Nature, the authors utilized multiple NASA satellite datasets dating back to 2000.
Obtaining accurate measurements of glacier melt, or glacier mass loss, has been difficult, the authors said. Glaciers are generally found in incredibly remote or inaccessible locations, meaning that only a few hundred of the over 200,000 glaciers are routinely monitored.
However, by utilizing the satellite datasets from NASA, they were able to show that glaciers lost roughly 5,073 gigatonnes of mass from 2000 to 2019 – or 11,180,000,000,000,000 pounds. That’s roughly the equivalent of 553,465,346 Eiffel Towers.
From 2000 to 2019, the rate of glacier melt accelerated from an estimated .36 meters per year to .69 meters per year, the authors wrote.
In turn, the authors believe that glacier melt has contributed to an estimated 21% of sea level rise since 2000 – almost a quarter of an inch.
They discovered that the most rapid increase in glacier melt took place in Alaska, western Canada and the United States. In New Zealand, glaciers are believed to have melted at almost seven times the rate between 2015 and 2019 compared to the turn of the century.
Reduction in global glaciers is one of the most direct consequences of a warming planet and one of the key indicators of climate change, according to scientists. Although the authors did not study the cause of the glacier melting, they did indicate that the areas where glaciers shrunk experienced changes in long-term precipitation and temperature, which are consistent with climate change.
In calculating the glacier melt rates, the 11 authors wrote that they hope it contributes to more accurate projections for sea level rise and water management.