Ice is nature’s best thermometer. When the temperature rises, ice melts. There is no better indicator of climate change and global warming than the melting of our planet’s ice. But what’s the importance of glaciers and why is it crucial that we do something to stop their melting?
Most of the planet’s ice is locked up in glaciers and ice sheets. Glaciers are huge bodies of ice, while ice sheets are as big as a continent. There are two ice sheets in the world – the Greenland Ice Sheet and the Antarctic Ice Sheet. Both glaciers and ice sheets form in the same way. Layers of snow build up slowly over hundreds of years and become compacted into ice. The oldest glacier in the world may be as old as 8 million years.
Most of the world’s glaciers are found in the Polar regions, such as Greenland, Alaska, and Antarctica. However, they can occur in every continent, from the Andean glaciers in South America to the Himalayan glaciers in Asia.
Glaciers are an important source of water as they hold about two-thirds of the Earth’s freshwater. Many rivers are born from glaciers. The Ganges River in Asia, for example, derives mainly from the Gangotri glacier, one of the largest glaciers in the Himalayan Mountains, with about 400 million people depending on it for water.
Glaciers also provide a lot of nutrients to rivers and the ocean. When they are formed, they lock in particles and dust that hold nutrients such as iron and nitrogen. These nutrients are vital to life. In the summer, when glaciers melt, they feed rivers and the ocean with these nutrients.
Glaciers also have a deep, cultural meaning. Pilgrims gather every year in Sinakara Valley, high up in the Andes Mountains, to celebrate the Snow Star Festival. It is a grand, three-day celebration of the stars that has lasted for hundreds of years. Tens of thousands of believers dance into the night and pray to the sacred mountains. To the locals, the melting glaciers in the region are not just a physical loss but a spiritual one, too.
Scientists estimate that between 2000 and 2019, we lost about 267 giga tonnes of ice each year. This has caused about 21% of the sea level rise since 2000. As the planet continues to warm, our glaciers will continue to melt and scientists warn that two-thirds of Earth’s glaciers may disappear by 2100.
It is not too late to protect our glaciers. To do so, we need to make every effort to slow global warming, the biggest threat to our planet’s ice. There are many ways to make a difference, from the electricity we use to the things we buy. We can save energy by turning off lights and appliances when not in use. Recycling and reusing the things we already own are important to the fight against climate change, too.
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