International team maps nearly 200,000 glaciers in quest of sea rise estimates

May 6, 2014

May 6, 2014                                                                                      Tad Pfeffer

         An international team led by glaciologists from CU-Boulder and Canada’s Trent University have completed the first mapping of virtually all of the world’s glaciers, including their locations and sizes.

          The goal of the massive project, called the Randolph Glacier Inventory, is to provide the best information possible on how much smaller glaciers are contributing to rising seas now and into the next century as the world warms, says Tad Pfeffer, team member and fellow at CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.

Audio Clips

Audio Script

International team maps nearly 200,000 glaciers in quest of sea rise estimates

May 6, 2014                                                                                      Tad Pfeffer

          An international team led by glaciologists from CU-Boulder and Canada’s Trent University have completed the first mapping of virtually all of the world’s glaciers, including their locations and sizes.

          The goal of the massive project, called the Randolph Glacier Inventory, is to provide the best information possible on how much smaller glaciers are contributing to rising seas now and into the next century as the world warms, says Tad Pfeffer, team member and fellow at CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.

CUT 1 “We had to come up with an estimate of what all the glaciers in the world are contributing to sea level right now. These are all of the glaciers except for the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. (:13) Everything else, some 200,000 glaciers, if you take all of that ice and put it into the ocean it would raise sea level by 40 to 50 centimeters of sea level equivalent. (:25) It is going to be one of the leading contributors in this next century because the ice sheets really won’t get going for a couple hundred years.” (:31)  

          Although the new estimates are less than 1 percent of the amount of water stored in the Greenland and Antarctic Ice sheets, which collectively contain more than 200 feet of sea rise, Pfeffer says, over the course of the next century, it is going to be glacier melt that will be the primary contributor to sea rise and it will be important for city planners and engineers along the coastal regions be able to plan ahead for the short term.

CUT 2 “We really need to do a lot of work to come up with projections for 2020, 2030, 2040, because that is the time scale where decision makers, policy makers, coastal engineers, people actually planning the response to climate change, need information.” (:19)

          In addition to impacting global sea rise, the melting of the world’s glaciers over the next 100 years will severely affect regional water resources like irrigation and hydropower, says Pfeffer.

CUT 3 “Scandinavia, for example, Pacific Northwest, those places rely quite heavily on glaciers and in some parts of South America, in the high Andes, people are very dependent upon glaciers for agriculture or drinking water. And those places are at risk of losing their glaciers all together (:22) Those places, to the extent that they depend upon glaciers to provide water at the end of the summer, they may be pretty dry in a hundred years time.” (:31)

          Using satellite images and maps to outline the area and location of each individual glacier, the team catalogued more than186,000 glaciers around the world, roughly 280,000 square miles -- an area slightly larger than Texas or about the size of Germany, Denmark and Poland combined.

          Led by Pfeffer and Trent University Professor Graham Cogley, the team included 74 scientists from 18 countries, most working on an unpaid, volunteer basis.

 

-CU- 

Give FeedbackSee More Photos View Photo