Greenpeace documents disappearing glaciers

Press release - 7 August, 2002
Glaciers globally are under threat from climate change. Greenpeace went to Svalbard in the Actic Circle to document glaciers there.

Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in front of the Glacier Fjortende Julibreenon Svalbard.

The Greenpeace flagship, Rainbow Warrior, today released results of a documentation journey to glaciers in the Arctic islands of Svalbard, some of which are retreating up to 150m a year because of warmer temperatures and altered snow and rain patterns caused by climate change.

"The retreat of the Kongsvegen glacier by 150m a year is just one example of what is happening globally," said Truls Gulowsen, Greenpeace climate campaigner in Svalbard. "Glaciers are more than just magnificent landscapes. Around the world they are the water sources for millions of people, animals and plants. Increased temperatures brought about by greenhouse polluting fuels like coal, oil and gas, are destroying glaciers. Unless we break our addiction to fossil fuels, we risk the wholesale destruction of glaciers, which would have a huge impact on billions of lives."

Greenpeace today is launching a website comparing modern and historic images of glaciers from around the world to illustrate how climate change is already taking its toll. The website features paired images of glaciers in the USA, Peru, New Zealand, Nepal, Austria, Uganda and Svalbard (Norway) in the Arctic, as well as background information on these glaciers.

Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world, according to the International Commission for Snow and Ice and the School of Environmental Studies of India's Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. If the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by 2350 is very high. More than 2 billion people - a third of the human population - rely on the rivers that are fed from the Himalayas. If the Himalayan glaciers disappear, it would have devastating impacts.

The Svalbard glaciers in Kongsfjorden began an almost continuous retreat around 1900. Blomstrandbreen has retreated around 2km in the past 80 years. Since 1960, the average retreat of that glacier has been about 35m a year, accelerating in the past decade. The glacier was connected to the former peninsula Blomstrandhalv?ya until 1992 but now there is a passage of nearly 1km between Blomstrandhalv?ya, which is now an island, and the glacier's rapidly retreating front.

The Kongsvegen glacier of the Kongsbreen complex has retreated about 150m a year for the past 50 years. Other glaciers in the area have fared equally badly. Conwaybreen has retreated by 3.5km since 1880, and14Julybreen has reduced about 2km since 1906.

The Rainbow Warrior conducted the documentation journey to the glaciers of Svalbard with Professor Jon Ove Hagen from the University of Oslo, and was assisted in its documentation by the Norwegian Polar Institute.

"The glacier retreats we have seen in Kongsfjorden are due to climatic changes over the last century," said Professor Ove Hagen. "If global warming continues as the climate models predict, we can expect an accelerated retreat of these glaciers in the future, as we have already seen happening in Alaska and other places across the rest of the world."

"Climate change is a global problem - not only do we risk losing the world's glaciers but we face many other impacts such as increased floods, droughts and storms, loss of coral reefs, sea -level rise and rapid spread of vector-borne diseases," said Benedict Southworth, coordinator of Greenpeace's international climate campaign.

"Later this month governments from around the world meet in Johannesburg for the Earth Summit. Greenpeace has gone to the ends of the earth - literally - to remind them of what is at stake if they don't act now to protect the environment. Climate change is hurting the whole world, not just the Arctic, and energy is a crucial development issue. They must get it right now."

Greenpeace is campaigning for governments to make a commitment at the Johannesburg Earth Summit to provide clean and affordable renewable energy to the two billion people around the world who currently live without electricity, and is demanding governments ensure that 10% of all electricity supply by 2010 is provided from green, renewable sources.

The Svalbard expedition is on the north leg of Greenpeace's Choose Positive Energy tour, campaigning against nuclear and fossil fuel energy. The Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise is presently campaigning in the South China Sea against coal-fired power stations and in support of clean renewable energy such as wind, solar and modern biomass.

Download the media briefing Climate change impacts on glaciers around the world pdf file (26k)

VVPR info: Vision and photographs of Svalbard glaciers are available on request.Contact Jon Novis on +31 6 53819121 for photographs, and Mim Lowe for video on +31 20 524 9543 or + 31 6 535 04721