By Lise Alves, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – Some of the most well-known glaciers are expected to vanish from the earth if the ‘business-as-usual’ greenhouse gas emissions continue, say scientists from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Almost half of these are located at the United Nation’s UNESCO World Heritage sites.
“We expect complete glacier extinction in 8 to 21 of the investigated World Heritage sites until the end of the century, depending on the climate scenario,” states the report, dubbed Disappearing World Heritage Glaciers as a Keystone of Nature Conservation in a Changing Climate, issued by the IUCN in May.
The study, the first of its kind by UNESCO, forecasts the decrease of 2017 ice volume levels anywhere from 33 to 60 percent, at World Heritage glaciers by 2100; that is 12,000 km3 of melting ice.
“Losing these iconic glaciers would be a tragedy and have major consequences for the availability of water resources, sea level rise and weather patterns,” said Peter Shadie, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Program during the presentation of the report.
According to Shadie, the melting of the glaciers could threaten the heritage sites themselves. “States must reinforce their commitments to combat climate change and step up efforts to preserve these glaciers for future generations,” said the director.
“Glaciers are more than disappearing passive climatic indicators. They are key components of planetary ecosystems that influence global climate and sea level, as well as water fluxes, human activities, or biodiversity at the regional scale,” says the study.
Among the glaciers most threatened are Grosser Aletschgletscher in the Swiss Alps, Khumbu Glacier in the Himalayas and Greenland’s Jakobshavn Isbrae.
Also doomed to be drastically reduced are Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, containing some of the largest glaciers on Earth. According to scientists the ice loss there could reach sixty percent of the current volume by 2100.
In North America, the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park and the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks in Canada as well as the Olympic National Park, in Washington State (U.S.) could lose more than 70 percent of their current ice volume by 2100.
In the Oceania region, the Te Wahipounamu, located in New Zealand, is expected to lose anywhere from 25 to 80 percent of its current ice volume by the end of this century. The area contains three quarters of New Zealand’s glaciers.
“To preserve the iconic glaciers found in World Heritage sites, we urgently need to see significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. This is the only way of avoiding long-lasting and irreversible glacier decline and the related major natural, social, economic and migratory cascading consequences,” says Jean-Baptiste Bosson, lead author of the study and member of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected areas.
Since 1972, UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention has found 19,000 glaciers in 46 world heritage sites, located all over the world. In all there are 247 natural world heritage sites catalogued by the United Nations and according to IUCN, today climate change is the biggest threat to these natural sites.