Why does ice matter? You may have heard news reports about how the Earth’s glaciers and ice caps are melting, and you may have asked: “Why is this news?” “Is this something that will actually affected my life?” “Is it all just about polar bears?” I myself come from a country with no ice. Ireland has no glaciers or permanent snow cover, and yet it too, along with every country in the world, will be affected by the future of ice.
I have recently begun a study to examine how mountain glaciers melt, and how the weather conditions over the glacier affect this. Imagine an ice cube taken from the freezer and placed in a glass outside on a hot, sunny day; the ice will melt, and how quickly it melts will depend on how warm and sunny it is. The ice on the surface of a glacier behaves in a similar way, and I hope to explore how changing weather conditions due to climate change will affect the melting and survival of glaciers.
Meltwater from glaciers plays an important role in the daily lives of communities in the valleys below, as a source of water for drinking and agriculture. The long term survival of these glacier will determine the future of these communities. However, the effects of melting glaciers can be felt much further afield. Hydropower dams have been built on many rivers fed by glaciers to provide electricity, which reduces the demand for oil. This both helps to keep down the price of gas at the pump, and reduces carbon emissions which contribute to climate change. Increased melting of glaciers will add water to the oceans, raising the sea level on every coastline in the world. Even countries far from any ice will be more susceptible to flooding, costing those who are directly affected as they attempt to rebuild or adjust, and costing communities as a whole due to increased taxes and insurance costs.
And about the polar bears? Well, it is a little about them too, and the beautiful environments they live in. Whether these environments have an impact on our daily lives or not, to watch them fade away, and to do nothing to help, would make the world a less special place to be.
- Noel, University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada