Thursday, July 15, 2010
Earth Policy Institute has long been concerned about the increased melting of the earth’s mountain glaciers. While they would raise sea level only a matter of inches, the summer ice melt from these glaciers is what sustains many of the world’s rivers during the dry season. As glaciers recede and disappear entirely, large populations of people who rely on the melt water will be adversely affected. As temperature rises there will be a shrinkage of river-based irrigation water supplies. In early 2009 the University of Zurich’s World Glacier Monitoring Service reported that 2007 marked the eighteenth consecutive year of glacier retreat. And glaciers are melting at double the rate of a decade ago.
Today’s New York Times environmental blog, Green, has a particularly compelling video on this melting: Then and Now: The Retreating Glaciers.
As Lester Brown writes in Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, mountain glaciers are melting in the Andes, the Rocky Mountains, the Alps, and elsewhere, but nowhere does this melting threaten world food security more than in the Himalayas and on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau, where the melting of glaciers could soon deprive the major rivers of India and China of the ice melt needed to sustain them during the dry season. In the Indus, Ganges, Yellow, and Yangtze River basins, where irrigated agriculture depends heavily on rivers, this loss of dry-season flow will shrink harvests and could create unmanageable food shortages.
For more on this subject, see Chapter 3 in Plan B 4.0, available for free downloading.
The snow and ice masses in the world’s leading mountain ranges and the water they store are taken for granted simply because they have been there since agriculture began. As the earth gets hotter, we risk losing these “reservoirs in the sky” on which both farmers and cities depend.
Reah Janise Kauffman
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