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Changing Ice – Changing Risk

By: , Posted on: June 4, 2014

“We have already committed to 3 or more meters of sea level rise” Richard Alley, an internationally recognized expert of ice sheet evolution and global sea level, recently said in connection with the latest model results concerning the retreat of Thwaites glacier, one of the big outlet glaciers flowing from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet into the Amundsen Sea. The possibility can indeed not be excluded any more that the long-term destabilization and collapse of enormous ice masses in the continental ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica may already be underway and cause – over the coming centuries – sea level to rise by several meters. Since 1993, the transfer of ice from glaciers and ice sheets into the sea has already contributed about 50% of the observed sea-level rise, and since 2003 it probably even exceeded the combined effects due to thermal expansion, changes in terrestrial water storage, and changes in ocean basin size.

The case of glaciers, ice sheets and sea level illustrates the fact that hazards, risks and disasters from snow and ice not only relate to direct impacts on humans and their infrastructure by, for instance, snow avalanches, floods from outburst of glacial lakes or accelerated erosion of permafrost coasts. Serious threats to human well-being also relate to the loss of goods and benefits from reducing or even vanishing snow and ice components. The existence of glaciers and ice sheets, for instance, keeps sea level low. Their loss causes heavy and widespread problems of flooding at densely populated sites for many generations to come. In a similar way, ice loss causes frozen mountain slopes to destabilize or water supply from glaciers during dry seasons to decrease. Even where vanishing ice offers new possibilities such as open shipping routes through the Arctic Ocean the corresponding loss or contamination of unique and pristine ecosystem may be a high price to be paid.

Snow and ice on Earth influence human activities at various scales of time and space. Through their proximity to phase-change thresholds, they are strongly linked to climatic conditions and presently subject to rapid changes induced by ongoing trends of global warming. Hazards, risks and disasters related to snow and ice require early anticipation of drastic long-term changes in order to develop sustainable protection, mitigation and adaptation procedures. Modern observational technologies help to deal with the challenges created by complex and highly interconnected geo- and ecosystems under conditions of growing disequilibrium. In the new volume on “Snow and Ice-Related Hazards, Risks and Disasters” leading experts establish an overview and modern knowledge basis for such tasks.

About Wilfried’s upcoming book:

Snow and Ice-Related Hazards, Risks and Disasters provides you with the latest scientific developments in glacier surges and melting, ice shelf collapses, paleo-climate reconstruction, sea level rise, climate change implications, causality, impacts, preparedness, and mitigation. It takes a geo-scientific approach to the topic while also covering current thinking about directly related social scientific issues that can adversely affect ecosystems and global economies.

Snow and Ice-Related Hazards cover

 Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Thermokarst
  3. Glacier Surges
  4. Ice-shelf Collapse
  5. Spatial variability of rates & acceleration of ice mass loss & contribution to sea-level rise
  6. Most likely cumulative sea-level rise by decade
  7. Permafrost loss by decade
  8. Decadal contributions to atmospheric change by permafrost loss
  9. Sea ice and icebergs
  10. Implications of Climate Change
  11. Cryospheric changes & feedbacks to weather changes
  12. Community responses & preparedness to cryospheric changes
  13. Economics of cryospheric changes
  14. Infrastructure development in light of associated coastal & other changes


About the Author

wilfred haeberli biopicDr. Wilfried Haeberli is professor and head of unit of the department of Geography at the University of Zurich. He lecturers on Glaciology, Geomorphodynamics and Geochronology.

Dr. Haeberli is a leading expert in environmental glaciology and geomorphodynamics of high-mountain areas and focuses on climate-related glacier and permafrost monitoring, natural hazards, slope movements, ice core drilling and paleoglaciological modelling. He has been both a reviewer and contributing author of the IPCC.

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