Glaciers will melt away in half of the Natural World Heritage sites where they currently exist if global greenhouse gases emissions continue unchecked.
This is the finding of experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and ETH Zurich, who made the first global study of World Heritage glaciers.
Even in a low-emission future, eight sites will still lose their glaciers by the end of the century, the researchers found.
In any case, 33–60 per cent of the ice volume currently found in Natural World Heritage sites in 2017 will be gone by the year 2100.
Natural World Heritage sites are currently home to some of the Earth’s most iconic glaciers — including Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier, Nepal’s Khumbu Glacier and Switzerland’s Great Aletsch Glacier.
Natural World Heritage sites are currently home to some of the Earth’s most iconic glaciers — including Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier (pictured)
Natural World Heritage sites are currently home to some of the Earth’s most iconic glaciers (pictured). In total, the sites contain 19,000 individual glaciers
In their study, the researchers combined computer modelling with a global inventory to assess glaciers presently found on World Heritage sites and predict how they will likely change over the 21st Century.
From this, the researchers collated the first ever register of the glaciers covered by the UNESCO World Heritage list, comprising 19,000 glaciers in total.
Glaciers are currently present in 46 of the 247 Natural World Heritage sites.
Should greenhouse gas emissions continue largely unchecked, researchers found that 21 of the 46 currently ice-covered Natural World Heritage sites would lose their glaciers by 2100.
Even under a low emission scenario, eight sites will still become ice-free by the end of the century, experts found.
Overall, between 33 and 60 per cent of the total ice volume that was present in the heritage sites in 2017 will have melted away by 2100, depending on the extent of future greenhouse emissions.
Natural World Heritage sites are currently home to some of the Earth’s most iconic glaciers — including Switzerland’s Great Aletsch Glacier (pictured)
The researchers found that many iconic landscapes within the World Heritage sites will be altered by rising temperatures.
Home to some of the largest glaciers on the Earth, Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park is predicted to lose around 60 per cent of its current ice volume by the turn of the century.
In Europe, the small glaciers in the Pyrénées – Mont Perdu site are expected to completely disappear as soon as 2040.
Home to some of the largest glaciers on the Earth, Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park (pictured) is predicted to lose around 60 per cent of its current ice volume by 2100
Over 70 per cent of the glacier ice found in Canada’s Rocky Mountain Parks (pictured) will be lost by 2100, models predict
The researchers also found that, in North America, over 70 per cent of the glacier ice found in Canada’s Rocky Mountain Parks, the Olympic National Park in Washington state and the Glacier National Park will be lost by 2100.
This will occur even if carbon dioxide emissions are radically reduced.
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Te Wahipounamu park — which presently contains 75 per cent of the country’s glaciers, including the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier — will lose from 25 up to 80 per cent of its current ice volume by the end of the century.
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Te Wahipounamu park — which presently contains 75 per cent of the country’s glaciers, including the Franz Josef (pictured) and Fox Glacier — will lose from 25 up to 80 per cent of its current ice volume by the end of the century
Glaciers are vital for both ecosystems and societies located across the globe.
‘Losing these iconic glaciers would be a tragedy and have major consequences for the availability of water resources, sea level rise and weather patterns,’ said IUCN World Heritage Programme director Peter Shadie.
‘This unprecedented decline could also jeopardise the listing of the sites in question on the World Heritage list.
‘States must reinforce their commitments to combat climate change and step up efforts to preserve these glaciers for future generations.’
Natural World Heritage sites are currently home to some of the Earth’s most iconic glaciers — including Nepal’s Khumbu Glacier (pictured)
‘To preserve the iconic glaciers found in World Heritage sites, we urgently need to see significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions,’ said study author Jean-Baptiste Bosson, who is a member of the IUCN’s World Commission on Protected areas.
‘This is the only way of avoiding long-lasting and irreversible glacier decline and the related major natural, social, economic and migratory cascading consequences.
‘This study on glacier decline further emphasises the need for individual and collective actions to achieve the mitigation and adaptation aspirations of the Paris Agreement on climate change.’
In November 2017, an IUCN report concluded that climate change is the fastest growing threat to Natural World Heritage sites.
The the number of such sites challenged by climate change has doubled between 2014 and 2017.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Earth’s Future.
HOW IS GLOBAL WARMING AFFECTING GLACIAL RETREAT?
Global warming is causing the temperatures all around the world to increase.
This is particularly prominent at latitudes nearer the poles.
Rising temperatures, permafrost, glaciers and ice sheets are all struggling to stay in tact in the face of the warmer climate.
As temperatures have risen to more than a degree above pre-industrial levels, ice continues melt.
For example, melting ice on the Greenland ice sheet is producing ‘meltwater lakes’, which then contribute further to the melting.
This positive feedback loop is also found on glaciers atop mountains.
Many of these have been frozen since the last ice age and researchers are seeing considerable retreat.
Some animal and plant species rely heavily on the cold conditions that the glaciers provide and are migrating to higher altitudes to find suitable habitat.
This is putting severe strain on the ecosystems as more animals and more species are living in an ever-shrinking region.
On top of the environmental pressure, the lack of ice on mountains is vastly increasing the risks of landslides and volcanic eruptions.
The phenomena is found in several mountain ranges around the world.
It has also been seen in regions of Antarctica.