Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.
— Ancient Indian Proverb
Over a thousand years ago Asian farmers were excited about a novel way to irrigate their crops after discovering dark colors absorbed sunlight. They spread a layer of ashes and soot over snow to melt water for their crops during periods of drought. Fairly recently, the Chinese and Russian governments took that idea and dumped coal dust on nearby glaciers in hopes of using the heat from the sun to melt enough water to supply India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan during their dry spells. This method cost too much so the idea was abandoned.
Glacial melt provides water for mountain populations; Himalayan glaciers feed water into rivers flowing through Asia. Bolivians depend on a nearby icecap to provide water during their many droughts. In Switzerland farmers in the Rhone Valley use melted water channeled from glaciers to irrigate their crops.
Glaciers play a part in generating hydroelectric power. Engineers use glacial melt water in central Europe, Norway, New Zealand, South America, and Canada as a resource for hydropower dams.
Much of Mother Nature depends on the existence of glaciers in order to survive. But as these icy masses decline so does the population of certain wildlife, like the polar bear. The thinning ice leaves bears stranded farther and farther from land. These magnificent animals often drown as they struggle to swim exhausting distances to shore.
Where in the World?
Although found on nearly every continent, glaciers now take up only 10 percent of the earth’s land area. Most of the glaciers lie in Antarctica, the Canadian Arctic, and Greenland above the snowline, areas of high snowfall in winter and cool summer temperatures. If more snow accumulates in the winter than melts in the summer, then a glacier can appear. With each additional year of accumulation, snow turns into ice, compressing previous layers. The snow’s density increases for approximately two years when firn is formed (the stage before it evolves into glacier ice). Firn is almost two thirds as dense as water. This process can take hundreds of years until the glacier is several hundred feet thick.
Gravity forces the thick layer of ice to move or flow very slowly. As the glacier moves down mountains onto plains, and at times out to the ocean, it freezes and melts, picking up rocks, soil, and other material, dragging it all to a new location.
Some glaciers surge quickly, as much as several feet daily. In Alaska in 1986, the Hubbard Glacier advanced 32 feet a day, damming up the Russell Fjord in two months and creating a lake.
Affecting Our Own Back Yard
At the Canadian border in Montana stretches majestic Glacier National Park. It is home to ancient glaciers whose melt water flows in three directions – into the Gulf of Mexico, Hudson Bay, and Pacific Ocean. In 1850 there were 150 active glaciers; today there are only 25. If the current trend continues, there will be no more glaciers by 2030. One ecologist who works at the park states asserts it will be much sooner than that. Daniel Fagre predicts the glaciers in this park will disappear before 2020. The area’s wildlife and plants will become endangered. Farmers who rely on glacial melt for irrigation during the late weeks of summer will be searching for water elsewhere.
What Does it Mean?
Around the world snow and ice reflect sunlight off the earth and into space. But as our planet’s glaciers retreat, more areas of the oceans and seas will be darker and absorb more heat. Warmer ocean temperatures will melt more glaciers.
Rising ocean levels will directly affect every people on every continent. Once glacial retreats cause sea levels to rise 32 feet or more, cities on the coast will be under water, including Charleston, South Carolina.
Glaciers, ice sheets, and polar caps are earth’s air conditioners that cool down the planet. Glaciers are harbingers of climate change; they are the most visible indicators of global warming. Everything on earth has been and will be affected. Science proves that these events are changing the way we live now and will in the future.
Glaciers are retreating at an alarming rate. If we continue to pretend this doesn’t matter, more will be lost than pristine parks and fresh water sources. Life in the ocean, wild and domestic animals, people all over the world will be affected. We all need glaciers. Polar bears aren’t the only ones.
Phyllis MacLay is a published writer of articles in Country Woman Magazine, Parent Magazine, Easy Street Magazine, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, newspapers. Originally from Pennsylvania, Phyllis moved to Aiken from Texas. She has published children’s plays and is now selling online and at Booklovers Store in Aiken her latest novel, A Bone for the Dog, the chilling story of a father trying to rescue his little girl. (Visit www.PhyllisMaclay.com) Her latest published work Sweet Brew and a Cherry Cane appears in the anthology Nights of Horseplay by the Aiken Scribblers.