Major Glaciers, Including Yosemite, Could Disappear by 2050, Report Says

by Emily Morgan
Photo by: Paul Souders

According to a new UNESCO report, some of the earth’s most iconic glaciers will completely vanish by 2050 due to global warming. These glaciers include those in the Italian Dolomites, Yosemite, and Yellowstone. In addition, glaciers in Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania will also disappear.

The United Nations cultural agency UNESCO currently watches some 18,600 glaciers across 50 of its World Heritage sites. The UN now says that a third of those will disappear by 2050. However, not all hope is lost.

The rest of the glaciers can be kept by maintaining a global temperature rise below 2.7 Fahrenheit to pre-industrial levels. However, if nothing were monitored and maintained, nearly half of these World Heritage glaciers could almost entirely disappear by 2100.

Per UNESCO, World Heritage glaciers represent about 10 percent of the world’s glacier areas and include some of the world’s best-known glaciers. Glacier loss here would be highly visible as they are famous spots for international tourism.

The new study’s lead author Tales Carvalho told outlets that World Heritage glaciers lose some 58 billion tons of ice annually on average. This number is equivalent to the total annual volume of water used in France and Spain combined and contributes to almost 5% of the global monitored sea-level rise.

Carvalho also said that the most crucial way to prevent significant glacier retreat worldwide would be to reduce carbon emissions drastically.

In addition, UNESCO recommends that given the inevitable retreating of these glaciers, officials should make glaciers a priority for policy-making.

Melting glaciers can present disastrous problems for communities

“As glacier lakes fill up, they can burst and can cause catastrophic floods downstream,” Carvalho said.

He added: “This report brings a very powerful message in the sense that World Heritage Sites are iconic places. Places that are extremely important for humanity, but especially for local communities and Indigenous peoples. Ice loss and glacial retreat is accelerating, so this sends an alarming message.”

Glaciers make up about 10% of the land, providing fresh water for households, agriculture, and industry. Under typical conditions, they may take as long as a millennium to reach maturity. Each year, the glaciers gain mass through snow or rain and lose mass by melting in the summer.

Retreating glaciers may seem like a faraway issue. However, according to Carvalho, the problem can devastate communities.

He points to Pakistan’s recent floods, which left nearly one-third of the country underwater. The flooding, which lasted over several weeks, was likely brought on by a combination of abnormal monsoon rains and several glacial lake overflowing due to melting that followed the recent high temperatures.

“As water melts, this water will accumulate in what we call glacial lakes; and as water comes, these glacial lakes might burst,” he said. “And this outburst can create catastrophic floods, which is something we can see very recently in Pakistan.”