Glaciers around the world, including some of the most famous World Heritage sites, are set to vanish by 2050 due to climate change, according to a new UN report.
“Glaciers in a third of the 50 World Heritage sites are condemned to disappear by 2050, regardless of efforts to limit temperature increases,” UNESCO stated.
Yosemite National Park glaciers in the United States, as well as those in the Alps and Mount Kilimanjaro, will melt within three decades. Also at risk of disappearing are the ice patches at Yellowstone National Park, which was hit by a historic flood this year.
The projections coming from satellite data will be discussed at next week’s COP27 climate change conference, where world leaders prepare to meet in Egypt.
Climate change: what the numbers say regarding glaciers
Researchers identified 18,600 glaciers at 50 World Heritage sites, covering 25,000 square miles and discovered that they have “been retreating at an accelerated rate since 2000 due to CO2 emissions, which are warming temperatures,” according to the report.
The ones cited represented almost 10 per cent of the Earth’s glacierized area and consist of famous tourist locations and places valuable to local populations.
Every year, these sites have lost about 58 billion tonnes of ice. That accounts for up to 4.5% of observed global sea level rise, according to the study.
The retreat and vanishment of glaciers was “among the most dramatic evidence that Earth’s climate is warming”, the report said.
“We hope we might be wrong, but this is the hard science,” said UNESCO project officer Tales Carvalho Resende, one of the authors. “Glaciers are one of the valuable indicators of climate change, because they’re visible. This is something we can really see happening.”
It was mentioned however that “It is still possible to save the glaciers in the remaining two thirds of sites if the rise in temperatures does not exceed 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial period.”
Projections for melting glaciers over time
The forecast reflects a previous report which used models to assess how World Heritage sites could change over the years.
“What is quite unprecedented in the historical record is how quickly this is happening,” said Beata Csatho, a glaciologist from the University of Buffalo, who did not take part in the research.
“In the middle of the 1900s, glaciers were quite stable,” she said. “Then there is this incredibly fast retreat.”
Other world heritage sites set to disappear by 2050:
- Nahanni National Park (Canada)
- Pyrenees Mont Perdu (France, Spain)
- Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona (Switzerland)
- The Dolomites (Italy)
- Putorana Plateau (Russia)
- Natural System Of Wrangel Island Reserve (Russia)
- Virgin Komi Forests (Russia)
- Durmitor National Park (Montenegro)
- Mount Kenya National Park/Natural Forest
- Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
- Mount Kenya National Park/Natural Forest (Kenya)
- Rwenzori Mountains National Park (Uganda)
- Huanlong Scenic and Historic Interest Area (China)
- Hyrcanian Forests (Iran)
- Lorentz National Park (Indonesia)