Timelapse of Earth’s Glaciers: Changing Perspective of The Past 50 Years

Written by Michelle Starr

 

meltwater ponds(NASA/USGS)

New timelapse videos from satellites that have been monitoring Earth for decades have revealed the shocking reality of ice melting at accelerated speeds all over our planet.

The series focuses on glaciers and ice sheets in Alaska, Greenland and Antarctica, showing how, over the decades, most of the ice is retreating annually and not growing back.

“I think observational glaciology in terms of remote sensing is a very data-rich field now, compared to 1972, when you had a few images,” says glaciologist Mark Fahnestock of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“So we are beginning to get a historical record of the speeds of glaciers, and so we can watch how rapidly that surface is lowering as things speed up, or where it’s thickening.”

Using Landsat images dating back to 1972 and continuing all the way up to this year for a total of nearly 48 years, Fahnestock created six-second timelapses of all the glaciers in Alaska and Yukon. While some of the ice masses grow over that time, most of them shrink quite shockingly.

It is, according to scientists, a clear illustration of the havoc being wreaked by climate change. You see, for instance, the Columbia glacier remaining stable until about the mid-1980s, when it starts disintegrating and retreating into the Chugach Mountains. It’s now one of the most rapidly changing glaciers in the world.

Not even the growing glaciers are in the clear, such as the Hubbard glacier in eastern Alaska. Towards the end of the timelapse, a large chunk of the glacier calves into the ocean.

“That calving embayment is the first sign of weakness from Hubbard Glacier in almost 50 years – it’s been advancing through the historical record,” Fahnestock said. “The satellite images also show that these types of calving embayments were present in the decade before Columbia retreated.”

Things weren’t much better in Greenland where, according to satellite data collected between 1985 and 2018, glaciers retreated by five kilometres (three miles) on average, speeding up quite noticeably after 2000, with the ice losing more mass than it gains. And the phenomenon is not geographically constrained.

“One thing we’ve noticed is that retreat has been a pattern that we’ve seen across the ice sheets in Greenland,” said glaciologist Michalea King of The Ohio State University. “It’s not just limited to one region.”

This retreat at glacial toes – or the ends of the glaciers – was accompanied by meltwater ponds (pictured below) appearing at higher and higher altitudes.

“We looked at how many lakes there are per year across the ice sheet and found an increasing trend over the last 20 years: a 27 percent increase in lakes,” said glaciologist James Lea of the University of Liverpool in the UK. “We’re also getting more and more lakes at higher elevations – areas that we weren’t expecting to see lakes in until 2050 or 2060.”

And, down in Antarctica, microwave radar images revealed lakes of liquid water beneath the ice and snow, which remain liquid even in the depths of winter. These lakes can destabilise ice shelves, accelerating their calving.

We’ve known of such lakes beneath both Antarctica and the Greenland ice sheet; but the researchers’ data suggest there may be more subglacial lakes in Antarctica than we knew about, suggesting that the loss of the ice shelves may be more advanced.

Put all together, the decades of satellite data show a trend that is not limited by region: the world’s permanent ice is melting, and these videos demonstrate that stark reality more clearly than ever before.

It’s just one of many, many signs that Earth is undergoing rapid climate change; it’s not too late to do something about it.

The researcher was presented at the 2019 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Read more at www.sciencealert.com


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Comments (16)

  • Avatar

    Carbon Bigfoot

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    Sublimation is the transition of a substance directly from the solid to the gas phase, without passing through the intermediate liquid phase. Sublimation is an endothermic process that occurs at temperatures and pressures below a substance’s triple point in its phase diagram.
    Since there has been no significant rise in sea levels perhaps the increase in atmospheric clouds might be the new home of glaciers.

    • Avatar

      Matt

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      Hi Carbon B

      That evaporated moisture from Terra Australia did not merely disappear into Doctor Who’s telephone box either.

  • Avatar

    Jerry

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    48 years is not a significantly long record in Climatology cycle terms.

  • Avatar

    Brian James

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    Dec 7, 2019 Mass Climate Hypnosis

    If nobody owned a TV and people spent more time outside, there would be no climate hysteria.

    https://youtu.be/6T-Yrrg5iJs

  • Avatar

    jerry krause

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    Hi Michelle, Carbon, Jerry, and Brian,

    I have been a series of essays with the title: How Prehistoric Glaciers Could Have Been Formed. The foundational basis of this series is that to form a glacier it must snow a lot.

    But I read: “New timelapse videos from satellites that have been monitoring Earth for decades have revealed the shocking reality of ice melting at accelerated speeds all over our planet.”

    It is true that glaciers do melt, but a more critical truth is that glaciers, which calve icebergs, are sliding down slopes as glaciers seem to naturally do. Hence, could the problem of decreasing areas of glaciers be that it is not snowing enough at the higher elevations?

    Have a good day, Jerry

    • Avatar

      Carbon Bigfoot

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      Jerry I thought this crowd was smart enough to recognize sarcasm without a sarc tag–my bad.

  • Avatar

    jerry krause

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    Hi Michelle, Carbon, Jerry, and Brian,

    I have begun a series of essays with the title: How Prehistoric Glaciers Could Have Been Formed. The foundational basis of this series is that to form a glacier it must snow a lot.

    But I read: “New timelapse videos from satellites that have been monitoring Earth for decades have revealed the shocking reality of ice melting at accelerated speeds all over our planet.”

    It is true that glaciers do melt, but a more critical truth is that glaciers, which calve icebergs, are sliding down slopes as glaciers seem to naturally do.

    Hence, could the observed trend that the volume of glaciers seems to be generally decreasing at this time, be that it is not snowing enough at the higher elevations?

    Have a good day, Jerry

    • Avatar

      JaKo

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      Hello Jerry,
      I do not have much to comment about glaciers as I think there’s little for us to be doing to prevent that or accelerate it.
      However, I would like to direct you to my update on an old comment made some time ago:
      https://principia-scientific.org/over-100-papers-assert-co2-has-little-or-no-climate-effect/#comment-29992
      I wish we could communicate in a better arrangement than this of PSI — if you agree, I could contact the editor to reveal your email…
      You have a good night,
      JaKo

  • Avatar

    Vance Lunn

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    I don’t like having my freedoms ride on the advance or retreat of glaciers.

  • Avatar

    tom0mason

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    Hurray! The Glaciers are retreating due to NATURAL climate change!
    This is a solid indication that we are still leaving the LIA and returning to warmer, more prosperous times.
    James Lea of the University of Liverpool in the UK, Mark Fahnestock of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and all who attended the 2019 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union should all now be celebrating as this indicates that we are heading for more productive, warmer times. Well it would be if the sun, volcanoes and the climate stays with the script.

  • Avatar

    Dlangtry

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    Pure UN globalist bull!!!! Stop having kids to reduce the glaciers melting???? Wtf???? Where does the sun factor into this? How about taking into consideration a longer time period….48 years is nothing….and climate is always changing!!! Surprised you printed this garbage!!!

  • Avatar

    James Gobbett

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    Year ago I saw a French Alpine club monthly that showed photos of glaciers taken in the 1920s. Even then glacier retreat was well known. Where I live (Trentino, Italy) we’re told there was almost a mile thick layer of ice, ten thousand years ago. Probably a lot more over the US Great Lakes area. Who melted it and how? In what unit should we measure the “speed” of glacier melting; and what parameters does it depend on?

  • Avatar

    Dr Roger Higgs (geologist)

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    Yes, Earth’s climate is doing what it has always done, i.e. change (ask any geologist; sadly the IPCC didn’t). Post-Little Ice Age warming is thankfully still in progress. Celebrate it. In a few decades cooling will begin again, likewise driven by the sun …

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336937682_Proof_that_the_sun_not_CO2_drives_climate-_sea-level_change

    We constantly hear the expression “since records began”. But how many members of the public realise that, in the case of world temperatures, “since records began” refers to just the last 150 years since reliable thermometers came into widespread use, a mere 30 MILLIONTH (sic) of Earth’s 4.5 billion-year history. The time span is even less, a paltry 50 years, in the case of these glacier photos.

    New “highest ever” (but only since 1850!) temperature records, like those in the news in Australia, will continue being set for decades to come, until cooling begins again in the 2070s (read the link above). These high temperatures are entirely natural.

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    James DeMeo

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    The images are fascinating, and important, but not definitive on any larger pattern of global concerns. The time-images presented show 3 glaciers receding, 3 advancing and 2 ambiguous. And the one time-image of Columbia Glacier, if you scan it slowly, shows NO glacial recession over 1972 through 1975. After 1976, its recession moves quickly. This may be significant, as the period c.1930-1975 was warming, and marked by academic and media fears we were headed for a new Ice Age. Also, a lot of glacial melt-back occurred since the Pleistocene, wherein some residues of that real Ice Age persisted into modern times, only to finally melt back in the era of human scientific observations. The Little Ice Age actually added to the remnant Pleistocene glaciation, forestalling the melt-backs observed in the Alps and other high mountain glaciers. This is no evidence of global warming isolated to the industrial age, and appears constrained to what we enjoy in the current interglacial period, punctuated by much smaller warming and cooling episodes. Also, in the pre-satellite era, glacial observations were made by hiking or boating up to their frontal snouts, or by aerial surveys, both of which were primarily constrained to glaciers that were easiest to travel to. So the northern Greenland glaciers were not surveyed so extensively as those in the southern Greenland or Arctic regions, which are closer to airports, roads or with ice-free ocean conditions. Same with Antarctica.

    • Avatar

      J.D.

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      Aargh, I meant to say “the period c.1930-1975 was COOLING.

Comments are closed