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The Global Climate 2011-2020 Report

Context:

Few indicators capture the severity of the climate crisis as effectively as the condition of glaciers, a crucial element of the cryosphere. The World Meteorological Organization’s recent publication, “The Global Climate 2011-2020,” provides a comprehensive overview of the Earth’s reaction to greenhouse gas emissions.

Relevance:

GS3- Environment- Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment.

Mains Question:

With reference to the recently released “The Global Climate 2011-2020” report by the World Meteorological Organization, give your arguments if threats from glaciers should be in same risk category as cyclones and quakes. (15 marks, 250 words).

About Glaciers:

  • A glacier is a vast, perennial accumulation of crystalline ice, snow, rock, sediment, and water that originates on land and descends downhill under the influence of its own weight and gravity.
  • Out of the Earth’s total water, glaciers account for 2.1%, while 97.2% is found in the oceans and inland seas.
  • The conditions conducive to glacier formation include mean annual temperatures close to freezing, significant accumulations of snow from winter precipitation, and temperatures throughout the rest of the year that do not lead to the complete loss of the previous winter’s snow accumulation.
  • The process of glacier formation begins in areas where annual snowfall exceeds melting. The freshly fallen snow gradually compacts, becoming denser and tightly packed in a process known as firnification.
  • When the ice reaches a thickness of about 50 meters (160 feet), the firn grains merge into a massive solid ice mass, causing the glacier to start moving under its own weight.
  • Different sections of a glacier move at varying speeds, with the flowing ice in the middle moving faster than the base.
  • Geographically, 91% of glaciers are located in Antarctica, and 8% are in Greenland, collectively occupying approximately 10% of the world’s total land area.

The Global Climate 2011-2020:

  • In the segment addressing glacier health, the report highlights that, on average, global glaciers experienced an annual thinning of approximately one meter from 2011 to 2020.
  • Although there is notable regional variation when examined over decades, the overarching trend persists: glaciers worldwide are diminishing in size.
  • Notably, certain reference glaciers, vital for long-term assessments of glacier health, have already disappeared due to the complete melting of nourishing winter snow during summer.
  • Specifically, glaciers on Africa’s Rwenzori Mountains and Mount Kenya are expected to vanish by 2030, with those on Kilimanjaro following suit by 2040.
  • The report emphasizes the swift expansion of pro-glacial lakes and the increased risk of glacier lake outburst floods (GLOF), posing additional threats to ecosystems and livelihoods.
  • It singles out the significant role of glacial meltwater in contributing to one of the decade’s most devastating flooding incidents, the Uttarakhand floods of June 2013.

Recent Instances:

  • The devastation caused by a Glacier Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) event became evident this year with the Chungthang dam in Sikkim being destroyed after the flooding of South Lhonak Lake from a melting glacier, resulting in downstream catastrophe.
  • In a separate report earlier this year, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development disclosed that the disappearance of glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayas accelerated by “65% faster in the 2010s than in the previous decade.”

Crucial Steps:

  • Given the current trajectory of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is anticipated to raise temperatures by 2.5°­3°C by the century’s end, glacier volume is projected to decline between 55% and 75%. This foretells significant reductions in freshwater supply in the immediate vicinity around 2050.
  • The vulnerability of glacier systems to warming emphasizes the crucial need for vigilant monitoring. Despite awareness of the risks posed by Himalayan glaciers, there is currently no early warning system for the likelihood of GLOF events.
  • Similar to alerts issued before cyclones, floods, and earthquakes, authorities must elevate the threats associated with diminishing glaciers to the same level of risk.

Conclusion:

Consequently, there is a pressing need for comprehensive risk assessments, the mapping of vulnerable regions, and the initiation of infrastructure development adhering to the highest standards of care to effectively deal with the risks of diminishing glaciers.


 

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