Glaciers across the planet are shrinking at a remarkable rate, a rate that is expected to increase as the years continue to pass by. However, conversely, water runoff from glaciers will not continue to increase, and is in fact expected to decrease over the coming decades.
The new research is courtesy of research done in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca by McGill University doctoral student Michel Baraer, in collaboration with Prof. Bryan Mark, at the Ohio State University, and Prof. Jeffrey McKenzie, at McGill.
They have found that glaciers are currently shrinking by about one percent a year, and that the percentage is likely increase steadily.
However, this accelerated glacial shrinking does not mean that the water from glaciers will increase. For the first time, the researchers noted that the volume of water draining from the glacier in the Rio Santa in Northern Peru has started to decrease dramatically. They calculate that during the dry season water levels could decrease by as much as 30 percent below current levels.
“When a glacier starts to retreat, at some point you reach a plateau and from this point onwards, you have a decrease in the discharge of meltwater from the glacier,” explained Baraer.
“Where scientists once believed that they had 10 to 20 years to adapt to reduced runoff, that time is now up,” said Baraer. “For almost all the watersheds we have studied, we have good evidence that we have passed peak water.”
The implications are clear. Millions of people who have heretofore depended on the glacial runoff for electricity, agriculture and, most importantly, drinking water, could soon see a massive drop in the availability of water.