Last summer in Alaska, I was kayaking up to the Holgate Glacier when I noticed the water getting colder. I began to feel the katabatic winds as I got even closer to the massive wall of ice. Small ice chunks began to surround the kayak, and I could see the fast moving silt deposits flowing beneath me. I then heard a noise which boomed and echoed off of the surrounding mountains, and I saw a massive chunk of ice break off (“calve”) from the glacier and plummet into the sea. I’ve always known that climate change was happening, but seeing it before my eyes reaffirmed my fears.
I’m not here to talk about my fantastic trip to Alaska, but rather to talk about the new scientific findings which will further predict the climate change battle. Previously, scientists believed that warmer-than-average temperatures can begin to melt glaciers, causing the sea levels to rise and cause disastrous flooding. Just recently, satellite image glacier research spearheaded by Romain Millan of Grenoble Alpes University in France has determined that glaciers hold 20% less water than previously thought. This means that, if all of the glacier ice were to melt, that the seas are predicted to rise 10 inches instead of 13 inches.
This is great news, right? Well, some could argue that less flooding means less disaster (landslides, wipe out infrastructure, etc), and that it’s good news. But it’s not, because even if the sea levels were to rise just a few inches lower, still 29% of the entire world’s population would be predicted to be immediately affected by flooding, and within a few days, 99.9% of the entire world’s population would feel the indirect effects through shortages or outages. In addition, less water quite literally means “less water.” 2 billion people currently rely on glaciers as their primary source of water, so “less water” would effect them through a drought. As
we’ve learned in AP Biology, water is one of the most, if not the most, important molecules to biological existence. A drought can affect human life from hundreds of angles, such as famine, or more immediately, dehydration. Water is extremely crucial to performing catabolic reactions such as hydrolysis, which we learned in AP Biology.
Factoring in mountaintop glaciers and their water content, Millan is able to determine the rate at which communities will run out of water. But for the non-alpine communities, these mountaintop glaciers are only a tiny drop in a large bucket. Millan’s research lacks one major component: the antarctic and arctic glaciers. If these unbelievably large ice fields continue to melt at the current pace, 90% of the United States is predicted to be underwater by 2050. To be honest, I believed this statistic was exaggerating until just recently. In Alaska, one of the glaciers named “Exit Glacier” had markers at the glacier’s terminus for each year. As I got closer to the glacier, I noticed the markers getting further and further away, signaling that the glacier was melting quicker and quicker. Take a look at the graph below, specifically how the year intervals begin to get smaller, and let me know how it makes you feel in the comments. Although it does not take a trip to Alaska to realize that climate change is really happening, new and emerging headline-worthy research like Millan’s is truly highlighting the immediate issue we all could face soon.