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Project of the Month: Insights from the most comprehensive study ever on the world’s glacier retreat

A new study published in ‘Nature’ has shown that almost all of the world’s glaciers have become thinner and have lost substantial mass over the past two decades – and that this trend is only accelerating. In the most comprehensive and accurate analysis yet, an international research team, which also included the EU-funded ICEMASS project, has raised the alarm about the potential dire consequences if the trend continues.

Climate Change and Environment

The study highlighted that the fastest melting glaciers are in Alaska, Iceland and the Alps but glaciers in the Pamir Mountains, the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas are also being profoundly affected. This is particularly concerning for countries in South Asia, such as India and Pakistan, where glacial meltwater in the dry season is a crucial source of water. However, the study also surprisingly found some glaciers experienced slower rates of retreat from 2010-2019, such as those on Greenland’s east coast and in Scandinavia – but the researchers attribute this to a weather anomaly in the North Atlantic that caused higher precipitation and lower temperatures. The European Research Council-supported ICEMASS (Global Glacier Mass Continuity) project contributed to the wider global study by developing an innovative ‘sensor model’ that enabled the exploration of 20 years of satellite stereo imagery (imagery taken of the same point on the Earth’s surface but from different space camera angles). This allowed the researchers to unlock valuable repeat Earth surface measurements hidden deep within the data. ICEMASS also conducted several pilot studies that tested and demonstrated for smaller regions, which was then done globally for the entire study. For more information on the study, which was led by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zürich), please go to: https://titan.uio.no/english/2021/worlds-glaciers-are-melting-faster-20-years-ago For the study itself, please go to: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03436-z “ICEMASS contributed a number of methods that were crucial to the study and I’m very pleased with how our findings and developments were taken up in such a collaborative and interactive way as was done with the ‘Nature’ study.” - Andreas Kääb, ICEMASS principal investigator If you are interested in having your project featured in ‘Project of the Month’ in an upcoming issue, please send us an email to editorial@cordis.europa.eu and tell us why!

Keywords

ICEMASS, glacier, meltwater, satellite stereo imagery, European Research Council