for National Geographic News
The rapid melt of small glaciers and mountain ice caps will be the main source of sea level rise over the next century, according to a new study.
The research, led by Mark Meier of the University of Colorado at Boulder, also suggests that sea levels could rise more during the 21st century than had previously been thought.
From 1996 to 2006, small melting glaciers dumped water into the oceans at growing rates year over year, the study found.
If this acceleration continues, sea levels could rise faster than some models had predicted.
Many people have heard that the two big ice sheets—on Greenland and Antarctica—are "the big players," Meier said.
"They will be, on time scales of centuries or millennia," he added. "But for the next few generations, it is the small glaciers that will be most important."
Big Impact of Small Ice
Most of Earth's ice is locked in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, which are up to 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) thick.
The bulk of these ice sheets are in deep freeze.
"The ice sheets are well below the melting temperature throughout," Meier said. This means that it would take many decades of warming to put a big dent in the massive sheets.
But it's a different story for smaller patches of ice.
"Many of the glaciers are at or close to the melting point," Meier said.
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