Melting Glaciers Threaten World Water Supply
BANGKOK − Mountain glaciers, which act as the world's water towers, are shrinking at ever faster rates, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people and the future of countless species, a scientist said on Thursday.
Around 75 percent of the world's fresh water is stored in glacial ice, much of it in mountain areas, allowing for heavy winter rain and snow-falls to be released gradually into river networks throughout summer or dry months.
"For some species and some people there are going to be big problems because mountain areas feed not just rural people but big cities, especially in Latin America," said Martin Price of the UK-based Centre for Mountain Studies.
In dry countries, mountain glaciers can account for as much as 95 percent of water in river networks, while even in lowland areas of temperate countries such as Germany, around 40 percent of water comes from mountain ice-fields, Price said.
"It's a huge issue in the long run because once the glaciers go, you're down to whatever happens to fall out of the sky and come downstream," Price told Reuters on the sidelines of the IUCN World Conservation Congress in the Thai capital.
Due to factors such as global warming and air pollution, glaciers, like the polar ice caps, are getting smaller.
Studies show that Africa's highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, may lose its ice-cap by 2020, while the Glacier National Park in the northern United States could well be looking for a new name by 2030.
As well as threatening consistent, year-round water flows, climate change in mountains is threatening the vast variety of species.
Animals and plants in mountain areas, which officially cover 25 percent of the earth's surface, are under threat from the gradually changing climate, as well as loss of habitat on lower reaches which is pushing species to ever higher altitudes.
Eventually, they will run out of places to go.
"What can you do about it? You just have to try and adapt as things go along. You have to be as flexible as possible, but a lot of species are going to go extinct. In mountain areas many already have," Price said.