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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Thawing Glaciers

Never mind the horror stories about great chunks of melting ice, it's the little ones you've got to watch. The big threat this century is likely to come from small thawing glaciers, researchers have reported. Even though these glaciers contain just 1 per cent of the water tied up in the great ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland, they could account for 60 per cent of an expected rise in the world's sea level by the year 2100.

Much of the concern about rising seas has focused on the big ice sheets that contain a vast majority of the world's ice. The online journal Science Express reports melting glaciers, which are located all over the globe, including in the tropics, could add 10-25cm to world sea levels this century. It doesn't sound much until you consider 100 million people live within lm of sea level, said lead author Mark Meier of the University of Colorado-Boulder.

"If we had almost a foot (of sea-level rise) just due to the small glaciers, add that to the ice sheets and add to that the ocean warming ... then we get a rise we can't ignore," he said. Meier said the huge amounts of ice locked in Greenland and Antarctica held the potential for "some really horrendous sea level rise" - as much as a metre - if they ever melted. That is unlikely to happen this century. "But for the next few generations we think we should not ignore the little glaciers," he said.

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