23 Things You May Or May Not Know About Glaciers
Travel, because it opens your eyes and shows you things you otherwise would not know.
Proximity, or being in the very midst of a situation creates a sense of connectedness, belonging, and urgency.
It wasn’t until I was in Glacier Bay in Alaska in 2017 where I came up close and personal to (close enough to touch) gigantic glaciers, and a national park ranger who hopped onto our cruise ship highlighted the danger of the times we’re living in, that I was made aware of the precarious situation you and I are in.
It’s natural not to feel the urgency of people, situation and matters we’re not in close proximity with. Physical distance drive a wedge between people’s emotional connection. When we live in different countries or continents from our friends, it’s much harder for us to empathize with the issues they’re dealing with, versus a friend who lives in close proximity and whom you see on a regular basis. A natural catastrophe happening in a distant continent thousands of miles away from you is less likely to raise your alarm and concern as an earthquake that happens 10 miles from where you live would.
We’ve heard that global warming affects all of us, but until we live right in the very midst (or close enough to) where glaciers are melting and water level are rising and threatening to drown our modern cities, we probably think that it is someone else’s problem.
23 Things You May Or May Not Know About Glaciers (And Now You Do)
Glaciers are made up of fallen snow that, over many years, compresses into large, thickened ice masses.
Some glaciers are as small as football fields (even then, that’s pretty huge!), while others grow to be dozens or even hundreds of kilometers long (massive! Enough to sink the Titanic).
Glaciers can be thought of as remnants from the last Ice Age, when ice covered nearly 32% of the land, and 30% of the oceans (can you imagine one third of the earth covered in ice?).
When exactly was the Ice Age? It was a period that began about 2.6 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago (gosh I can’t even wrap my head around all these figures, can you?).
And now, in the current age, only an approximately 10% of the earth is covered by glacier (versus 32% in the Ice Age).
What exactly does 10% of the earth covered in glaciers look like? Well, we’re talking about over 400,000 glaciers and ice caps scattered across earth, and ok, this probably isn’t gonna help, but the number is impressive so I’m gonna mention it anyway - over 5.8 million square miles of ice.
Glaciers are found in every continent, including Africa, except for Australia.
Glaciers are found in 47 countries, with most located in polar regions like Antarctica, Greenland, and the Canadian Arctic.
Alaska is estimated to have more than 100,000 glaciers. Most remain unnamed.
North America's longest glacier is the Bering Glacier in Alaska, measuring 190 kilometers (118 miles) long.
The largest glacier in the world is the Lambert-Fisher Glacier in Antarctica, at 400 kilometers (250 miles) long, and up to 100 kilometers (60 miles) wide.
Glacier ice is the largest reservoir of freshwater on the planet, storing an estimated 75% of the world’s supply.
The Antarctic ice sheet is actually a glacier and has existed for at least 40 million years. If it were to melt in its entirety, sea levels would rise 210 feet worldwide (according to the U.S. Geological Service).
What does rising sea levels at 210 feet worldwide mean? It means many cities and countries around the world would either be buried underwater or lose land, including Seattle, Montreal, New York, Miami, London, Guangzhou and Tokyo. The Netherlands will be one of the worst affected country.
Glaciers are moving bodies of ice that can change entire landscapes. They sculpt mountains, carve valleys, and move vast quantities of rock and sediment.
Why do glaciers look blue? This is because the red (long wavelengths) part of white light is absorbed by ice and the blue (short wavelengths) light is transmitted and scattered. The longer the path light travels in ice, the more blue it appears.
For reference purpose, why is snow white? Light does not penetrate into snow very far before being scattered back to the viewer.
Receding and melting glaciers aren’t just limited to the polar regions. What happens in the Indian Kush mountains matters to 2 billion people directly (psst.. 2 billion people is one fourth of the world population).
Climate change will also cause “erratic behavior” weather-wise, like the absence of expected rainfall. Disturbances like these don’t bode well for farmers, who depend on consistent weather patterns. And why is this important? Because farmers are people who plant and harvest our crops and food for our bodies.
Women in the region are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. This is because men will leave their homes in search of better economic opportunities, leaving women to deal with the consequences. As such, global policies that support adaptation to climate change will not succeed unless they consider gender.
Former Chinese leader Mao Zedong famously quoted that women hold up half the sky, meaning to include women in the economic and political growth of China. For all his idiosyncrasies, he sure got this one thing right: that unless we include women in the economic equilibrium, we suffer as an entire body.
Long time and Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof, together with his wife Sheryl WuDunn, wrote a book titled “Half the Sky” published in 2008 which I read in 2009. In it, Kristof and WuDunn, in their investigative journalistic style, reported cases of women around the world including Somalia and Cambodia who were oppressed in every horrifically imaginable manner including female genital mutilation, sex trafficking and child brides; and the hope that arises from each of the stories as organizations around the world including the Half The Sky Foundation (founded by Kristof and WuDunn) which seeks to turn oppression and tragedies into opportunities and triumphs for women worldwide.
What has women and the book Half the Sky got to do with glaciers? See points 20 and 21.