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Glaciers Shrinking Faster than Expected

A new satellite survey of over 2,000 glaciers shows that most of them are now shrinking. Scientists are concerned about melting glaciers as far apart as Mount Kilimanjaro, the Himalayas and Glacier National Park in Montana. New photographs taken by NASA?s Terra spacecraft show the shrinkage is dramatic and happening on a global scale.

Rick Wessels of the U.S. Geographical Survey compared thousands of the new images to aerial photographs dating back 20 years. ?Some glaciers are more like snowbanks,? he said. Mount Kilimanjaro has lost 82 percent of its ice since 1912 and scientists calculate that it will lose all of its snow between 2010 and 2020.

He also looked at images of mountain lakes at the base of melting glaciers and found that many had grown in the last 10 years and showed up dark blue instead of light blue, indicating higher levels of sediments. This suggests that there has been increased erosion of the mountain by the glacier, indicating higher flow rates of the ice, as well as higher temperatures.

In Australia, scientists now say that the shrinking of the country?s little-known glaciers on remote Heard Island in the Indian Ocean reveals that global warming now stretches from the tropics to the edge of Antarctica.

?The recession of many glaciers during the past 50 years has been unprecedented in modern times for Heard Island,? according to glaciologist Andrew Ruddell of the Australian Antarctic Division. ?We can expect that with a warming world that this will progress further south. When we see warming going on this far south, we are always concerned about the Antarctic.?

A five-month Australian scientific exploration to Heard Island that ended in March revealed that global warming was dramatically changing the island?s harsh and hostile environment. Since 1947, the temperature has risen 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit, causing glaciers to melt rapidly. The island's 34 glaciers have decreased by 11 percent in area and 12 percent in volume, and half the loss occurred in the 1980s. ?I didn?t recognize it,? says Dana Bergstrom, who hadn?t been to Heard Island for 14 years. ?I was walking across sites that I had previously crawled across. What was barren ground had cushion plants growing over them. From an Antarctic perspective it is dramatic.?

?It?s a very significant retreat,? says Ruddell. ?Glaciers are very sensitive to climate change.?

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