Gore and his colleagues stressed that snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere is decreasing at a rate of about 1.5% per decade; Arctic sea ice (summer minimum) is decreasing by 11.2% per decade; while the area experiencing surface melting on Greenland has increased by 30% between 1979 and 2008. Continental glaciers in Europe, Patagonia, and northwestern America are melting particularly rapidly and severe impacts on water resources are expected, especially in the Andes and Himalayas regions.
The report was issued at the COP15 Climate meeting in Copenhagen by the Centre for Ice, Climate and Ecosystems at the Norwegian Polar Institute, Polar Environmental Centre in Tromsoe, Norway. One of its authors, Dr. Dorthe Dahl Jensen, commented at a press conference, "The changes are simply so rapid that we must revise the reports very often." She was asked whether humans can respond in a meaningful way to mitigate such rapidly melting ice and snow, and she said that was a political question that she could not answer.
On their part, Gore and Stoere urged deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions, early reductions in black carbon emissions from diesel, biomass burning, and soot, which coat snow and ice and accelerate melting; adaptation by the most affected countries; and vigilance to continue funding of scientific research for key natural and social systems. They urged financial assistance to help the most affected areas.
To me, the biggest story on Monday December 14 at the COP15 Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen was all about ice. Former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore teamed with the Greenland Premier Kuupik Kleist, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Stoere, and Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller to call for global action to stem the causes of melting snow and ice.
There's been a significant increase in reported and projected melt rates since the 2007 IPCC 4th Assessment which drew on data collected through May 2005. In only four years, estimates of ice sheet thinning and melting in Antartica have increased markedly. Observed sea level rise has doubled from the 1.7 mm/yr average rate in the 20th century to 3-4 mm/yr today. In 2007, IPCC projected a sea level rise of about 0.2-0.6 meters in 2099 through modeling of six different scenarios, whereas model forecasts today are in the range of 0.8-1.9 meters rise during the the 21st century. Quite a change in only four years! Much of the difference is due to the recently recognized (accelerating) melt rates on Greenland and Antarctica which adds to a thermally expanding ocean. Millions of people in low-lying island nations and areas such as Bangladesh, the Netherlands, and the Mekong Delta will be affected by sea level rise during this century if the new projections hold.