Studies show global ice loss is set to increase

ice river
© iStock/HRAUN

A new study has estimated the extent of the Earth’s river ice loss as the planet becomes hotter, due to climate warming.

Over 50% of our rivers freeze every year. These rivers support the transportation of communities and industries that are located at high latitudes. The ice cover also limits the amount of greenhouse gasses released into the Earth’s atmosphere from the rivers.

A study conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Geological Sciences highlighted that the annual river ice is due to decline by around six days for every one-degree Celsius increase in global temperatures.

The decline of global ice cover will have both economic and environmental consequences. Published on January 1 in the journal Nature, this is the first study to examine the future of river ice on a global scale.

“We used more than 400,000 satellite images taken over 34 years to measure which rivers seasonally freeze over worldwide, which is about 56% of all large rivers,” said Xiao Yang, a postdoctoral scholar in the UNC-Chapel Hill geological sciences department and lead author on the paper.

Yang continued: “We detected widespread declines in monthly river ice coverage. And the predicted trend of future ice loss is likely to lead to economic challenges for people and industries along these rivers and shifting seasonal patterns in greenhouse gas emissions from the ice-affected rivers.”

The research group studied the changes in the loss of river ice, allowing them to develop a model to predict the future of our ice rivers. By comparing river ice from 2008 to 2018 and 1984 to 1994, the team were able to find the monthly global decline ranging from 0.3% to 4.3%. Researchers discovered the greatest decline were found in the Tibetan Plateau, eastern Europe and Alaska.

“The observed decline in river ice is likely to continue with predicted global warming,” the study explains.

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