Mountain Glaciers Melting Faster Than Ever, Expert Says

Blake de Pastino in San Francisco, California
National Geographic News
February 16, 2007

Mountain glaciers are melting faster than ever, a leading climate expert announced yesterday, and eerie effects of the thaw are being seen from the summits of South America to the highest peak in Africa.

In Peru alone, ice fields are disappearing so quickly that giant lakes have formed where meadows recently stood.

And retreating glaciers are exposing ancient plants that haven't been seen in 5,000 years.

Lonnie Thompson, an expert in ancient climates at Ohio State University, announced his findings yesterday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco, California.

Thompson's latest research has focused on measuring glaciers in the Andes mountain range, which spans seven South American countries, and on Mount Kilimanjaro in eastern Africa.

"One of the things that's very clear … is that the climate changes in those areas are unusual—unprecedented—in the thousands of years of history that we can look at in these places," Thompson said.

Kilimanjaro's glaciers are melting so quickly, he said, that the mountain lost nearly a quarter of its ice from 2000 to 2006.

Meanwhile, some glaciers in the Andes are melting ten times faster than they did just 20 years ago.

The massive melts are among the most provocative evidence yet that the world is getting too warm too fast to be the result of natural forces alone, Thompson said.

"If you look at what's happened to these glaciers, they're not just retreating, they're accelerating [their retreat]," he said. "And it raises the question of whether this might be a fingerprint of [human-caused global] warming."

Ancient Plants, Instant Lakes

Thompson is also studying ice fields in the Himalaya mountain range in central Asia.

Continued on Next Page >>




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