Glaciers melting at an alarming rate

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Researchers, especially one who has studied Norway’s second-largest glacier for the past 20 years, are sounding new alarms over how glaciers are melting. “It’s only going downhill with the glaciers,” Miriam Jackson, who recently paid another visit to an important arm of the glacier Svartisen in Nordland County.

Norway’s Engabreen, an arm of the glacier Svartisen, continues to melt at an alarming rate. This photo was taken on July 16 from across the fjord below it, which is characteristically greenish because of all the glacial sediment flowing into it. A boat carries tourists over to the trailhead that leads up to the ice edge. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Jackson, a glaciologist and researcher at Norway’s state waterways and energy directorate NVE, could report that Engabreen, which extends from Svartisen westward into one of its most visible areas at Halsa along the Holands Fjord, is even shorter now than it was last year, when it had receded by 140 meters from just the year before.

During the 20 years Jackson has studied Engabreen, it has receded by more than half a kilometer. The shrinkage has accelerated in recent years and Jackson is among researchers who are deeply concerned, also over the fate of glaciers around the world.

“You become worried over what will happen during the next 20 years,” she told Oslo-based newspaper Dagsavisen. She was also recently in Svalbard in the Arctic, where she could confirm that glaciers have also clearly receded.  “This is bad news,” said Jackson.

Danger rising
She noted that when glaciers melt and their characteristics change, it can lead to dangerous natural phenomena. She used the Icelandic word jökulhlaup for sudden flooding from pools of water on a glacier. “Areas that were safe can become unsafe,” Jackson said.

Norway’s largest glacier, Jostedalsbreen, isn’t far from Jølster, which suffered several sudden landslides this week. The slides were tied to sudden torrential rain, not any glacial activity in the area, but many feel climate change is behind much of the shifting weather and dramatic changes in the world’s glaciers, with melting ice tied to much warmer weather.

Norway has around 1,600 glaciers that have covered a total of 27,000 square kilometers around the country. Jostedalsbreen is the biggest, followed by Svartisen and Folgefonna east of Bergen. The balance of their mass is a result of snow accumulation in the winter and melting of snow and ice in the summer.

NVE (Norges vassdrags- og energi direktoratet) reported in April that there was little snow on the glaciers from last winter. State broadcaster NRK reported earlier this week that all of Norway’s summer ski centers on or near glaciers closed much earlier than usual this season because the snow on them had melted away. Folgefonna’s closure came record early, with its manager claiming that he’d never seen such melting, calling it “extreme.”

More large losses predicted
Jackson told Dagsavisen that visitors to glaciers like Engabreen, reachable by boat from Halsa and then a hike up from the fjord, must now be especially cautious near the ice edge, because of the danger of ice slides, while the amount of water flowing through nearby creeks and rivers can also change dramatically.

“Glaciers have their own daily rhythm,” she said. “You can cross a river early in the day, but when you walk back several hours later, there can be 10-times the amount of water in it.”

NVE is currently calculating how much mass the Norwegian glaciers lost last year. After the large losses last year, Jackson predicts there will also be “negative development” this year, not least at Svartisen and Engabreen. That’s been the case every year since 1995.

Even though climate researchers forecast more precipitation in winters ahead, it won’t be enough to save the glaciers because summer temperatures will also rise. “We talked for a long time that what we’re seeing today could happen, and now it is,” Jackson told Dagsavisen. “And it can go very fast.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund