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Context of 'June 26, 2006: Study Finds Evidence that Glaciers are Melting at a Rate Unprecedented in the Last 5,200 Years'

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The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), an international study four years in the making, warns that the Arctic is warming “at almost twice the rate as that of the rest of the world.” According to the study’s overview report, presented at a conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, the melting of sea ice and glaciers are a clear sign that the climate is undergoing drastic, possibly irreversible, changes. The study predicts that all ocean ice could disappear some time between 2060 and 2100. As more and more ice melts, temperatures are expected to increase at a quicker pace because of a positive feedback loop: higher temperatures melt more ice, exposing more ground which, unlike ice, absorbs the sun’s heat, thus increasing the temperature even more. The Arctic’s melting “will drastically shrink marine habitat for polar bears, ice-inhabiting seals, and some seabirds, pushing some species toward extinction,” the study’s 139-page overview report says. Another potential impact of the melting ice would be the release of carbon-rich methane gas currently locked in the permafrost. Scientists are also worried that the fresh water pouring off the melting glaciers will disrupt the North Atlantic Ocean conveyor current which brings the warmer Gulf waters to the Northern Atlantic keeping the region warmer than it would be otherwise. The report was commissioned by the Arctic Council, an international forum made of the eight countries that border the region: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the US. Six circumpolar indigenous peoples’ organisations are also represented in the council. Arctic warming is changing the ecology of the region in a way that is threatening the livelihoods of circumpolar groups like the Inuit and Athabaskans. The study’s findings—based on the work of more than 300 scientists and five different computer models—are contained in a 1,200-plus- page, fully referenced scientific report that underwent a rigorous peer-review process prior to publication. [Arctic Council, 11/2004; BBC, 11/2/2004; Independent, 11/11/2004; Reuters, 11/8/2005; One World, 11/9/2005] The study was actually completed months before its release on November 8, but was delayed by the Bush administration until after the elections, according to Gordon McBean, an ACIA participant from the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction at the University of Western Ontario. [Inter Press Service, 9/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Arctic Council

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

2006: Tibetan Glaciers Melting Fast

The Chinese Academy of Sciences reports that Tibet’s glaciers are melting at an increasingly quick pace and will decrease in size by 50 percent every decade. Over the last 20 years, the country’s average temperature has increased by 2 degrees Fahrenheit. The plateau’s 46,298 glaciers, which cover almost 60,000 square miles, provide water to 300 million people in China alone. According to the academy, the melting of the glaciers will result in an “ecological catastrophe.” The region will suffer more droughts and sandstorms and the tundra will turn into a desert. Many of the world’s largest rivers will be devastated. “The melting glaciers will ultimately trigger more droughts, expand desertification and increase sand storms,” says Dong Guangrong, a spokesperson for the academy. [Xinhua News Agency, 2/5/2006; Chinese Academy of Sciences, 2/27/2006; Independent, 5/7/2006]

Entity Tags: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

A National Academy of Sciences study concludes that the last few decades were warmer than any other comparable period in the last four centuries. The study’s findings are based on evidence from tree rings, boreholes, retreating glaciers, and other indicators of past surface temperatures. The study was commissioned by Congress in 2005 to investigate whether the claims made in a controversial 1998 climate study by climate scientist Michael Mann are true. That study had concluded that the climate is now warmer than any other time in the last 1,000 years. Mann had also reported in his study that the 1990s were the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year. The authors of the current study say they were unable to draw any solid conclusions about temperatures extending beyond the last 400 years for lack of reliable data. Nonetheless, they do agree that available evidence indicates that Mann’s conclusion regarding the last 1,000 years is indeed “plausible.” “Based on the analyses presented in the original papers by Mann et al and this newer supporting evidence, the committee finds it plausible that the Northern Hemisphere was warmer during the last few decades of the 20th Century than during any comparable period over the preceding millennium,” the report concludes. [National Research Council, 2006; National Academies, 6/22/2006; San Francisco Chronicle, 6/23/2006; BBC, 6/23/2006]

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) argues that “the present warming and associated glacier retreat are unprecedented in some areas for at least 5,200 years.” As evidence, it notes the widespread melting of mountain glaciers, the uncovering of plants that were buried thousands of years ago, and a change in the chemical isotopes of ice cores taken from seven mountain glaciers over the past 30 years, including the Huascaran and Quelccaya ice caps in Peru, the Sajama ice cap in Bolivia, and the Dunde and Puruogangri ice caps in China. According to the study’s authors, the ice samples also indicate that there was a sudden cooling of the climate five millennia ago. [Independent, 6/27/2006] Additional evidence of the sudden climate change has come from Mount Kilimanjaro; African lakes; Greenland and Antarctic ice cores, lead author Lonnie Thompson notes in an interview with the Washington Post. “There are thresholds in the system,” he says. “There is the risk of changing the world as we know it to some form in which a lot of people on the planet will be put at risk.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2006]

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) concludes that there is an 84 percent chance that human activity is responsible for rising sea surface temperatures (SST). Climate scientist Tom Wigley, one of the study’s authors, says data from 22 different computerized climate change models showed “exceptional correlation” between human activity and climate change. The only plausible explanation for the dramatic increase in sea surface temperatures is deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels. “There is less than a one percent chance that the changes in SST could be the result of non-human factors,” Wigley explains. The paper also finds that higher sea surface temperatures are increasing the frequency and intensity of storms in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. [Inter Press Service, 9/12/2006; Boston Globe, 9/12/2006; Santer et al., 9/19/2006]

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

The National Academy of Sciences releases a study finding that NASA’s earth science budget has declined 30 percent since 2000. NASA’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees a large portion of the government’s climate research, has been plagued with enormous cost overruns and schedule delays with its premier weather and climate mission. The report—two years in the making—warns that half of the scientific instruments on the country’s environmental satellites are expected to cease working by 2010. Among other recommendations, the study suggests that the government increase its spending on researching the potential impacts of climate change such as ice-sheet melting, sea-level changes, and extreme weather events; restore support for efforts to improve NASA’s “capability to observe natural hazards and environmental changes”; and fund other efforts that would improve weather forecasting. Co-chairs Berrien Moore III of the University of New Hampshire and Richard Anthes of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research tell the Washington Post that NASA needs about $500 million a year restored to NASA’s earth science program, “essentially a return to the budgets during the Clinton administration,” the Post notes. [Washington Post, 1/16/2007; National Academy of Science, 1/16/2007]

Entity Tags: National Academy of Sciences, Richard Anthes, Berrien Moore III

Timeline Tags: Global Warming


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