A world dependent on (melting) ice

Mountain glaciers around the world are melting and thinning each year. Thinning is measure annually and every 50 years. Photo from Wiki Commons.

Mountain glaciers around the world are melting and thinning each year. Graphic from Wiki Commons

By Meghan Eldridge

DES MOINES, Iowa — Ours is a world dependent on ice, a reality that will be largely affected by climate change in the coming years, President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson of Iceland said in his keynote address at the World Food Prize Thursday.

Ice, energy and food are interconnected and represent the three fundamental challenges of the 21st century, Grimsson said. The future of ice throughout the world has drastic impacts on agriculture, a point of interest as the population continues to grow to its highest level in history.

“We have not acknowledged the fact that we in the 21st century are living in an ice-dependent world,” Grimsson said. “The glaciers are not divorced from our fate; they, my friends, are closely related.”

The current volume of ice in 171,000 glaciers is almost 41,000 cubic miles and if all of those glaciers melt, sea levels would rise about 17 inches, according to a study in the Journal of Geophysical Research. This figure does not account for the glaciers covering Greenland or the Antarctic ice sheet, which would cause higher sea levels if they melted. A glacier melt of this magnitude would submerge the Florida Keys and other low-lying areas, according to Waleed Abdalati, NASA chief scientist.

“The retreat of glaciers will threaten every coastal city in America, Asia and elsewhere,” Grimsson said.

Iceland is a country aware of the role climate change is having on the global recession of glaciers, rising sea levels and the need for renewable energy sources, the president said. The nation is at the forefront of green energy production, and relies 100 percent on domestically produced renewable energy, predominantly geothermal, to heat homes in the country.

The core problem in terms of climate change is the fragmented view people have of the planet and how far the world is from taking the necessary actions to mitigate the effects of climate variability, he said. The world population doesn’t consider the vital importance of ice in the “three poles,” the Arctic, Antarctic and Himalayas.

Antarctica is a landmass larger than the United States, but it is still not often a topic of concern, Grimsson said.

He noted the effect melting ice in the Arctic has on the landscape of China. When China experienced its worst winter on record in 2012, colder water temperatures due to melting ice caused major fish kills and many cities experienced the lowest temperatures on record, according to the newspaper China Daily.

“What happens in my arctic neighborhood has, within months, enormous effects on people in China,” Grimsson said. “We need to bring all the ice-covered parts of the world together as a new issue.”

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