Nature, 16 August 2023
An international team of glaciologists has created the first assessment of new ecosystems that will emerge due to future glacier retreat. Under a high emission scenario, half of the area covered by mountain glaciers could disappear by 2100. Rapidly curbing emissions to remain within 1.5°C could limit that loss to one-fifth, reducing damage to ecosystems and downstream human communities. Glacier retreat of any scale however will expose large land areas to the atmosphere for the first time in thousands of years, opening a vulnerable space for new habitats. Researchers estimate that around 80% of newly exposed terrain would be on land, while the remaining 20% would support marine and freshwater species in termination lakes and coves. These regions could provide refuge for cold-adapted species displaced by warming. However, less than half of these areas are currently located in parks or other protected regions. These rapidly evolving areas contain some of the fastest growing ecosystems in the world. Authors make clear the urgent need for enhanced mitigation and conservation measures, underscoring the importance of glaciers in the face of climate change, biodiversity loss and freshwater security.