HUFFINGTON POST
08/03/2015 12:15 pm ET Updated Aug 03, 2015

World's Glaciers Melting At Fastest Rate Since Record-Keeping Began

"Globally, we lose about three times the ice volume stored in the entirety of the European Alps every year."
Gentoo penguins stand on a rock in Antarctica. They face a dire future as melting glaciers and rising sea levels threate
Credit: Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press
Gentoo penguins stand on a rock in Antarctica. They face a dire future as melting glaciers and rising sea levels threaten their habitat.

The world's glaciers have melted to the lowest levels since record-keeping began more than 120 years ago, according to a study conducted by the World Glacier Monitoring Service that was released on Monday.

The research, published in the Journal of Glaciology, provides new evidence that climate change has spurred the rapid decline of thousands of the world's ice shelves over the past century. The first decade of the 21st century saw the fastest loss of ice since scientists began tracking it in 1894 -- and perhaps in recorded history, WGMS reported. 

"Globally, we lose about three times the ice volume stored in the entirety of the European Alps every year," Michael Zemp, director of the WGMS and lead author of the study, told The Huffington Post.

On average, the world's glaciers will lose 30 inches of ice thickness this year, Zemp said. That's twice the rate lost in the 1990s, and three times the rate lost in the 1980s.

The news comes just a few months before many of the world's leaders gather in Paris for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. The planet's leading scientists have emphasized the importance of reaching a deal, saying there is "no plan B" if the talks fail.

"We’re getting used to the message that glaciers are melting," Michael Zemp, director of the World Glacier Monitoring S
Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
"We’re getting used to the message that glaciers are melting," Michael Zemp, director of the World Glacier Monitoring Service, said.

The latest news on ice melt continues a trend of worrying statistics. The planet saw the warmest year on record in 2014, and researchers observed the lowest maximum ice extent ever seen earlier this year. All of that lost ice will very likely contribute to catastrophic sea level rise, which some scientists predict could approach 10 feet in the next 50 years.

Preliminary data for the past five years suggest that the melting has continued at an alarming rate, and the "bad news is getting worse," according to Zemp. Up to 90 percent of the glaciers in the European Alps could disappear by the end of the century.

"We’re getting used to the message that glaciers are melting," Zemp said. "But we should not get too used to it." 

Glaciers often provide a highly visual signifier of climate change that can be a more effective message than statistics. While it can be hard to feel a tenth of a degree in temperature change over time, the collapse of an ice sheet is hard to ignore, Zemp said.

"I always say to people, 'Go take your children and sit in front of the glacier and take a picture, then go back every year,'" he said. "It reminds you of what you could lose."

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