The impacts of warming on rapidly retreating high-altitude, low-latitude glaciers and ice core-derived climate records
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The impacts of warming on rapidly retreating high-altitude, low-latitude glaciers and ice core-derived climate records

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  • Journal Title:
    Global and Planetary Change
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    Alpine glaciers in the low- and mid-latitudes respond more quickly than large polar ice sheets to changes in temperature, precipitation, cloudiness, humidity, and radiation. Many high-altitude glaciers are monitored by ground observations, aerial photography, and satellite-borne sensors. Regardless of latitude and elevation, nearly all nonpolar glaciers and ice caps are undergoing mass loss, which compromises the records of past climate preserved within them. Almost without exception, the retreat of these ice fields is persistent, and a very important driver is the recent warming of the tropical troposphere and oceans. Here we present data on the decrease in the surface area of four glaciers from low- to mid-latitude mountainous regions: the Andes of Peru and northern Bolivia, equatorial east Africa, equatorial Papua, Indonesia, and the western Tibetan Plateau. Climate records based on oxygen isotopic ratios (δ18O) measured in ice cores drilled from several glaciers in these regions reveal that the records from elevations below ~6000 m above sea level have been substantially modified by seasonal melting and the movement of meltwater through porous upper firn layers. Fortunately, δ18O records recovered from higher altitude sites still contain well-preserved seasonal variations to the surface; however, the projected increase in the rate of atmospheric warming implies that climate records from higher elevation glaciers will eventually also be degraded. A long-term ice core collection program on the Quelccaya ice cap in Peru, Earth's largest tropical ice cap, illustrates that the deterioration of its climate record is concomitant with the increase in mid-troposphere temperatures. The melting ice and resulting growth of proglacial lakes presents an imminent hazard to nearby communities. The accelerating melting of glaciers, if sustained, ensures the eventual loss of unique and irreplaceable climate histories, as well as profound economic, agricultural, and cultural impacts on local communities.
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    Global and Planetary Change, 203, 103538
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    Accepted Manuscript
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