Before I had heard much about the drought in California, I started reading a book on glaciers. I didn’t know very much about glaciers or what they might have to do with a drought in California. Christopher White wrote a book about his trips to Glacier National Park in Montana and his conversations with people at the U.S. Geological Survey there. It’s called The Melting World: A Journey Across America’s Vanishing Glaciers. What I learned was disturbing and kind of depressing.
The snowpack on glaciers in mountains around the world supply a lot of the world’s fresh water. (According to Live Science, 30% of California’s water is supplied by the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.) And glaciers are receding. The Sierra Nevada snowpack is the lowest in recorded history. Glacier National Park is on pace to have no glaciers anymore within decades. The lack of water for all the places that rely on snowpack are not the only concerns when studying glaciers and their recession. There are a wide variety of species that rely on glaciers and the tree line on mountains. The tree line is continuously moving up the mountain. The species that live on the coldest top of the mountain are getting crowded out. Glaciers recede and any animals who rely on white as camouflage are losing their ability to hide from predators.
The USGS has some amazing photos that show the difference between the size of the glaciers early in the 20th century and today (such as the one above). They have some wonderful information on their website: Retreat of Glaciers. They also have a link to a better succinct explanation of everything than I could do: Crownscience.org. I found a YouTube video that shows photo evidence of glacier retreat as part of the Extreme Ice Project: Chasing Ice. Glaciers are amazing evidence of global warming. And the retreat of glaciers is a global phenomenon, so it is not a matter of weather (local) but rather climate (global). Glaciers are measurable and thus are a barometer for the effects of climate change.
This is another example of all the information being out there, but not enough people paying attention.
I read this book based on a recommendation of another blogger and I am so glad I did. One of the best things about it is the amount of charts, graphs and pictures that are used. It is particularly helpful when he shows graphs of long periods of times and then blows up the more recent past to show the effects that recent greenhouse gas emissions have had. I realize that I was already a believer, but it does seem to prove that humans are changing the atmosphere and sea level.
This book has a lot of science in it, but it was still incredibly readable. I am not someone who enjoys reading science textbooks, or even scientific studies. John Englander has made the science understandable and easy to digest. There were plenty of things I wasn’t aware of – like the cycle of ice ages and how we are actually due to start the cooling phase heading toward another ice age. The sea level is at the high point with less water trapped in ice sheets. It looks like this started to happen in the past centuries but something (humans) changed the course of history. (Not to sound too dramatic.)
Did you know? Sharps Island off Maryland sunk into the Chesapeake Bay in 1962? Apparently due to sea level rise, erosion and sinking land. Holland Island, also in the Chesapeake, disappeared in 2010. Or how about this? “At our current rate of carbon emissions, we will increase carbon dioxide levels… roughly 20,000 times faster than at any time in the last 540 million years. Temperatures… are now rising about 55 times faster than they did even during the most recent cycle of glacial melting.”
Englander also talks about the impacts of sea level rise. Here is a website that models sea level rise on the coastline of the U.S.: Climate Central. The NOAA also has one. He goes through various cities and talks about what they would face and how much of their population would be effected. It is worth noting that along with changes in shoreline, the water table will rise with sea level and so many inland areas will also be affected.
Here are a couple more links from the book that I thought were interesting: