The Melting of Glaciers and Effects

The melting of Glaciers is of wide concern for the Earth. A major cause is global warming and the effect is the sea-level rise and the formation of glacial lakes. On school days, everyone has read that water freezes below 0 degrees Celsius. You can imagine, what would happen when the temperature rises to 1 degree Celsius. It is obvious that there would be melting of that ice.  A similar kind of thing is happening on the Earth due to Global Warming. An increase in global temperature is causing the melting of Glaciers.

There are two different cases of the melting of Glaciers, they are as follows.

  • The Melting of Glaciers in Polar regions like Antarctica and the Arctic.
  • The Melting of Glaciers in the Non-Polar regions.
Melting of glaciers

What are the two kinds of Glaciers?

Glaciers on the Earth are majorly classified into two classes namely Polar and Non-Polar Glaciers. The polar glaciers are those which are found in the north and south poles. Nonpolar glaciers are found in the places like the Himalayas. The effects of the melting of glaciers in polar and non-polar glaciers vary accordingly. Let’s understand each of the cases.

First case: The Melting of Glaciers in Polar Glaciers like Antarctica and the Arctic.

We are well aware of the Antarctic ice sheet and the Arctic ice caps. They are the major part of polar glaciers. The ice sheets are also known as continental glaciers. The area of continental glaciers is more than 50,000 sq. km. The largest ice sheet is the Antarctic Ice sheet having an area of 14 million km2. 

Interestingly, Antarctica covers 90% of the Earth’s total ice.  If all of the ice in Antarctica melts then, it would make the sea level rise up to 58m.

Can you imagine the existence of life in the plains if the oceans would rise high up to 58m?

Representation of penguin near glaciers

Another major ice sheet is the Greenland ice sheet. It covers 82% of the area of Greenland. If all of the ice in the Greenland ice sheets melts, the sea level would rise by 7.8m. Now, this is also huge.

These are just the projections and the case of what happens if the melting of glaciers happens rapidly.

Scientists have projected the impact of global warming on the melting of glaciers. It is estimated that in between 1993-2013, the average sea level rise was approximately 0.21 mm/year. This is the major effect of the melting of glaciers in the polar glacier.

The sea-level rise is not only the issue. There is a major impact on the animals or the species like Penguins and Polar bears living in the polar conditions. Polar Bears are already designated as the Vulnerable Species due to Climate Change.

Second case: The Melting of Glaciers in the Non-Polar Glaciers, an example of the Himalayas.

The Himalayas are often known as the water tower of Asia. They are the source of water for almost 500 million population in Asia. It is evident that most of the Glaciers in the Himalayas are melting due to Global Warming. It directly impacts people and life. The major direct effect of the melting of the Glaciers is the formation of Glacial Lakes.

Glacial lake in Himalaya.

How the Glacial Lakes are formed and why they are dangerous?

Due to the excessive melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas, there have been various instances of the formation of Glacial lakes in the mouth of the Glacier. These lakes have very weak boundaries, called moraine dams. If it breaks, there is an instance of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods.

This directly impacts the lives of people. One of the most devastating incidents has been that of Chorabari lake’s outburst at Kedarnath in 2013. However, heavy flooding was due to excessive rain too, the lake outburst was the major component in the killings of thousands of people in India.

In one of the most important states in terms of glaciers namely Sikkim, there has been the formation of a glacial lake on the mouth of South Lhonak Glacier. It has been increasing rapidly in recent decades. A sudden outburst can cause significant damage to the people living downstream.

You can read a case study on the increase of South Lhonak Lake due to the melting of the Lhonak Glaciers.