Saturday, August 06, 2005

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Goodbye Glaciers

Glaciers are dwindling almost everywhere. In the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, all the glacers are shrinking. In Antarctica, and atop mountains in China, Peru and Argentina, glaciers are melting fast, as is the icy cap of Mount Kilimanjaro. If the current trend continues, in 30 years Glacier National Park on the Montana-Canada border will have no glaciers.

Some glaciers started melting hundreds of years ago. The demise of Muir Glacier may have been hastened by a shattering earthquake in 1899. Natural variations in the earth's climate, caused by volcanoes or wiggles in the earth's orbit and orientation around the sun, which alter the amount of sunlight hitting the continents, have caused ice ages to come and go. But lately, especially in the past 50 years, almost all experts agree, a spike in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere has exaggerated the greenhouse effect, in which a buildup of certain gases traps heat. What's more, because carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere, and because people are burning more carbon-dioxide-releasing fuel all the time, the change in the next 150 years will dwarf the change in the past 150 years. "It's going to be a very different world, a much warmer world", says Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University.

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