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Study finds glaciers hold less ice than previously believed

The study published in the journal "Nature Geoscience" suggests mountain glaciers hold about 20 percent less water than first thought.

HARTFORD, Conn. — Advanced, high-tech satellites are giving scientists a new look at glaciers around the world.

A new study, published in the Journal Nature Geoscience on Monday, finds the world’s glaciers are made up of less ice than first thought.

“This new estimate puts the total amount of ice stored in mountain glaciers at 20 percent lower than our previous guess and I think guess is a good word because previously we relied upon really sparse field measurements...and that just wasn't good enough," according to Andy Shepherd, Director for the Center for Polar Observation and Modeling.

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The new findings present a bit of a double-edge sword. 

On one hand, it suggests the most extreme sea level rise projections may be less likely.

"The one positive is that ultimately when all glaciers melt, sea level rise will be less than we thought," according to Shepherd.

On the other hand, less water inside melting glaciers is a bad thing, as communities around the world rely on water from melting glaciers each summer for all aspects of life.

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Mountain glaciers have been in retreat for decades, as a warmer climate melts the ice at a faster rate.

"We want to preserve the ice on Earth and that now, overnight, becomes a more difficult challenge," Shepherd suggests.

Back here in New England, this finding doesn't suggest sea level rise is any less of a concern for our shoreline; it's still happening.  

Ice sheets, like Greenland and Antarctica, weren't included in the study, which focused only on land-based mountain glaciers.

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Glaciers aren't the only contributor to sea level rise. 

Warmer ocean water is a factor too, due to a process known as thermal expansion. As water warms, it expands and takes up more room, essentially pushing the sea level up.

Additionally, our land is slowly subsiding or sinking, meaning all other climate-related factors aside, there would be a very gradual rise in the sea level over time.

Ryan Breton is a meteorologist at FOX61 News. He can be reached at rbreton@fox61.com. Follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.


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