I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called Chasing Ice. It was a documentary from 2012 about a group of researchers, particularly James Balog, who traveled to countries/continents with glaciers and large ice fields. He measured and recorded how quickly and to what extent the ice was melting. He captured glaciers and other ice landscapes that have been disappearing at alarming rates, some ice which might be lost forever now. In the end, their research proved that within the 21st century (around 12 years), the ice has melted at a greater rate than in all of the the 20th century. It wasn’t increasing, it was vanishing, and those large landscapes would never been seen again for many generations due to anthropogenic climate change. It’s a great documentary because of its breathtaking otherworldly imagery of ice worlds and its educational message about our critical Earth.
My major in university is Geography and Environmental Management, with a minor in Biology. Environmental concerns are among one my top priorities. I feel as if the vast majority of the population doesn’t understand the severity of the problems and issues that arise due to melting ice caps. The ice caps are melting due to increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, like carbon dioxide and methane. The greenhouse gases trap the incoming heat from the Sun, causing a warmer climate. This has been common knowledge for a while. Furthermore, ice is reflective because of its white colour; it has a high albedo. However, as the ice melts due to the warmer climate, dark ocean water replaces the white ice, which has a low albedo, absorbing the heat instead of reflecting the sun’s energy. As a result, it causes a feedback loop. A major area of substantial warming and melt is Greenland. Sea levels will rise, the chemistry of the ocean will change, species will die out. This will have a devastating impact to billions of species on Earth.
The numerous issues with glaciers melting are problematic to everyone’s livelihood on our planet. The ones who are at the most immediate risk are island nations. As the glaciers and ice caps melt, the liquid water has to go somewhere: the ocean. The sea levels rise and then coastal cities and countries at low elevations can flood. High tide might have only reached up to a certain point in the history of the island, but within the span of a human lifetime, the tide is now much higher and intruding on residential areas or areas where food is grown. The worst part about these unfortunate nations and cities is that the problem wasn’t self-inflicted, but due to a cumulative effort of almost everyone on Earth. Mainly countries that emit a lot of carbon due to industrialization and burning coal, such as the United States of America. Imagine having your ancestral home lost due to the actions of others around the world. It’s incredibly tragic. Examples of places at risk of inundation include the Netherlands (which is a country below sea level), Bangladesh (which already suffers from yearly flooding), coastal areas in China and Vietnam, and New York and New Orleans in the States. Island nations at risk include Maldives, Seychelles, Kiribati, and Torres Strait Islands. These island nations already have environmental refugees, and in the coming years, there are only expected to be more.
Another issue when mountainous glaciers melt is the loss of an essential part of life: drinking water. In Peru, the Quelccaya ice cap is the source of drinking water in the tropics of South America. However, each year its area decreases due to warmer winters, so ice does not accumulate. The glacier is the source of a fresh water river that flows through many populous areas. Once it completely melts, the river will cease to exist in its current form. Many people will not have a source of drinking water to no fault of their own. It’s not just this one case either: retreating glaciers are now common worldwide. The Himalayan glaciers feed rivers that flow throughout China, India, Nepal, Tibet, and other Asian countries. The waters irrigate crops, generate electricity through its current, and of course, provide drinking water. This source of life is necessary and has existed for thousands of years, but in a few decades will no longer be there. As a result, famine and wars could break out. Droughts will be even more common. This instability will result in mass migration, death, and environmental refugees entering other countries or areas in order to find water and to rightfully live their lives.
In my life, I have been to a few glaciers. In Iceland, I was able to visit Mýrdalsjökull. I thought the glacier was huge, as I saw people hiking up it appearing so small beneath its might. Underneath it was even a volcano in slumber. I was a small ant, looking up at something that existed for thousands of years, and larger than many buildings or cities. However, as someone had pointed out to me, that before it stretched even further. The small river that was coursing from its base used to be completely underneath miles and miles of ice. That sight won’t ever be seen from me, or anyone else in this lifespan. While still in Iceland, from afar, I saw Eyjafjallajökull, an ice cap on top of a famous volcano that erupted a few years ago. Its smoke caused air traffic to cease in Europe back in 2010. The ice is melting at a faster rate, year by year, so it is likely in a few decades, people in Iceland won’t see stunning snow-capped mountains or volcanoes.
In Canada, I’ve been to the Athabasca Glacier; it is connected to the Columbia Icefield in the Canadian Rockies. This glacier was formed during the Great Glaciation before 125,000 BC (older than any in Iceland), and that is even before humans walked on Earth. Its Icefield is partially visible from the Athabasca glacier is larger than 300km2 and incredibly deep. It stretches over peaks of mountains that are around 3,000m high. It is an incredible feature on Earth, and is now at risk of being lost. When I was at the glacier, I thought it was most fascinating site ever. It was absolutely huge and filled me with infinite wonder. Then I was told that the glacier stretched even further before, down the entire mountain slope and past the roads that led to it. It’s amazing how much change has occurred in such short time. I am envious of past generations who have viewed such amazing sights, and the pioneers that once found this picturesque otherworldly landscape in heart of the Canadian mountains: an eternal winter.
Of course research is constantly being conducted in order to monitor the changing ice. Geoengineering and scientists are continually trying new ways of slowing the melt and climate change. Ideas such as cloud cropping: putting aerosols in the atmosphere to form clouds, resulting in more reflectivity from the sun’s rays, or putting white sheets on Greenland for the same high albedo effect as snow. Nowadays, unlike a couple of decades ago, there are satellites which can visually monitor the Earth’s changes on a day to day basis. The images can be combined spatially and temporally to provide evidence that the ice sheets are decreasing from year to year, such as was seen in the Chasing Ice documentary.
Everyone has ways to help, such as using green energy, driving their cars less (using public transportation), and writing to their political leaders about their concerns. It will take more than an individual effort, it depends on nations too. If not, then the world will be a much hotter, unstable, and gloomier place for the future generations. I can’t wrap my head around all the terrible tragedies that will occur, and have started to occur. It makes me panic, it makes me feel hopeless sometimes. I wish I could do more to help. I feel frustrated. It leaves me feeling small and powerless, but I’ll still try all I can to divert this incoming destruction. I don’t want to leave such a depressing world for future generations. I don’t want to leave them in a world without the natural wonders we have today.