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NZ's glaciers thinning seven times faster now than two decades ago, study finds

New Zealand's glaciers are thinning seven times faster now than two decades ago, new research has uncovered.

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Using satellite and aerial images of nearly all the world's glaciers, the French study found they're losing on average a total of 267 gigatons of mass every year. Source: 1 NEWS

Using satellite and aerial images of nearly all the world's glaciers the French study found they're losing on average a total of 267 gigatonnes of mass every year.

The study found New Zealand rivers of ice shrunk on average by 105 metres each year between 2015 and 2019.

That's seven times more than the period between 2000 and 2004.

"New Zealand glaciers were a bit different to glaciers all around the rest of the world, they were gaining mass or not melting as fast and then in the past few years New Zealand glaciers have seen some years where they’ve had really extreme mass loss,” says Lauren Varo of the Antarctic Research Centre.

It also found over 20 years, glaciers around the world lost on average 267 gigatonnes of mass a year - a gigatonne is one billion tonnes.

“By the end of the century there will be some ice still in the country but only about 20 percent of what there is today,” Varo says.

The Government says New Zealand needs to reduce pollution and build resilience to limit the effects of climate change.

“We depend on these rivers, we depend on them for water to feed our towns but also obviously particularly in the South Island for our hydro-electric dams,” Environment Minister, James Shaw says.

Already the ice retreat is forcing tours further up the glacier.

According to the study, it's a pattern around the world. 

Almost all the world’s glaciers are melting, even ones in Tibet that used to be stable, the study found. Except for a few in Iceland and Scandinavia that are fed by increased precipitation, the melt rates are accelerating around the world.

The near-uniform melting “mirrors the global increase in temperature” and is from the burning of coal, oil and gas, Hugonnet said. Some smaller glaciers are disappearing entirely. Two years ago, scientists, activists and government officials in Iceland held a funeral for a small glacier.

“Ten years ago, we were saying that the glaciers are the indicator of climate change, but now actually they’ve become a memorial of the climate crisis,” said World Glacier Monitoring Service Director Michael Zemp, who wasn’t part of the study.

Half the world’s glacial loss is coming from the United States and Canada.