Climate change: Mount Everest’s ice, which took 2,000 years to form, melted in just 25 years, scientists say climate news


The ice that took around 2,000 years to form on Mount Everest’s highest glacier has melted in just 25 years, scientists warn.

The ice on South Col Glacier (SCG) has been shrinking 80 times faster than it was forming, according to a new report published by the international science journal Nature.

Research led by the University of Maine in the US found that about 180 feet (55 m) of ice was lost.

Now scientists say ice that took decades to accumulate may be receding rapidly – amid fears the rest of the glacier could disappear within the next 25 years.

At its highest elevation, Mount Everest remains a mystery in terms of weather, climate and glacier health

The report states: “The thinning could occur in 25 years, over 80 times faster than the formation of the ice now exposed on the surface of SCG.

“Estimated current thinning rates … indicate that several decades of accumulation may be lost on an annual basis now that glacial ice has been exposed.”

While the effects of melting glaciers have been extensively studied, little is known about the highest points on Earth, including SCG, which has a summit of 8,020 m (26,312 ft).

Despite its iconic status, Mount Everest at its highest elevation remains a mystery in terms of weather, climate and glacier health, the report said.

The National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition, launched in 2019, saw scientists travel to the top of the world in search of knowledge.

They wanted to conduct the most comprehensive scientific survey of the Nepalese side of Mount Everest, which lies on the China-Nepal border.

“It was the most comprehensive scientific experiment ever conducted on the south face of Everest,” expedition leader Paul Mayewski told National Geographic.

The dramatic icescape at Everest Base Camp in Nepal, pictured in 2015 (Image: AP)
The dramatic icescape at Everest Base Camp in Nepal, pictured in 2015 (Image: AP)

An important part of the research was the collection of an ice core from the SCG at an altitude of more than 1,000 m (3,200 ft) – the highest ever collected.

Radiocarbon dating showed that the ice at the surface was around 2,000 years old – meaning any ice formation had ebbed away in the past two millennia.

The core contained layers of annual ice growth comparable to tree rings, which helped the team draw their conclusions.

Ice began to decrease in the mid-1800s, increased in the 1950s and most noticeably since the year 2000.

The research pointed to “widespread warming” over Asia, with the greatest impacts on the Tibetan Plateau and the northern part of the Himalayas between 2001 and 2020.

The “changing climate” is likely to have led to a “significant thinning” since the 1950s – with an acceleration into 2019.

Research is a "wake up call" even Mount Everest, pictured center, may be affected by global warming Credit: AP/Tashi Sherpa
The research is a wake-up call, even Mount Everest, pictured in the center, may be affected by global warming. Image: AP/Tashi Sherpa

The report added: “Himalayan climate projections all point to continued warming and glacial mass loss.”

SCG has “shown that even the roof of the earth is affected by global warming,” it added.

Mr. Mayewski described the findings as a “real wake-up call” that climate change is affecting the most remote and isolated parts of the planet.

“Now we have proof that even the highest glacier on the highest mountain in the world is rapidly losing its ice,” he warned.

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