Data from close to 30 reference glaciers in nine mountain ranges indicate that between the years 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 the average rate of melting and thinning more than doubled.
Since 1980 there has been a total reduction in thickness of ice of just over 11.5 meters, or almost 38 feet.
The findings come from the UNEP-supported World Glacier Monitoring Service based at the University of Zurich. It has been tracking the condition of glaciers for over a century. Continuous data series of annual mass balance, expressed as thickness change, are available for 30 reference glaciers since 1980.
"The latest figures are part of what appears to be an accelerating trend with no apparent end in sight," said World Glacier Monitoring Service Director Professor Wilfried Haeberli.
The Service calculates thickening and thinning of glaciers in terms of "water equivalent." The estimates for the year 2006 indicate that further shrinking took place equal to around 1.4 meters of water equivalent compared to losses of half a meter in 2005.
The Ossoue glacier in the French Pyrennees is one of those shrinking most rapidly. (Photo credit unknown)
On average, one meter water equivalent corresponds to 1.1 meters in ice thickness, indicating a further shrinking in 2006 of 1.5 actual meters.
"This continues the trend in accelerated ice loss during the past two and a half decades and brings the total loss since 1980 to more than 10.5 meters of water equivalent," said Dr. Haberli.
Some of the most dramatic shrinking has taken place in Europe, with Norway's Breidalblikkbrea glacier thinning by close to 3.1 meters during 2006 compared with a thinning of 0.3 meters in the year 2005.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, "Millions if not billions of people depend directly or indirectly on these natural water storage facilities for drinking water, agriculture, industry and power generation during key parts of the year."
"There are many canaries emerging in the climate change coal mine," he said. "The glaciers are perhaps among those making the most noise and it is absolutely essential that everyone sits up and takes notice."
"To an important and significant extent that is already happening - indeed the elements of a green economy are already emerging from the more than $100 billion being invested in renewable energies to the responsible investment principles endorsed by 300 financial institutions with $13 trillion worth of assets," said Steiner.
"The litmus test will come in late 2009 at the climate convention meeting in Copenhagen. Here governments must agree on a decisive new emissions reduction and adaptation focused regime. Otherwise, and like the glaciers, our room for manoeuvre and the opportunity to act may simply melt away," he added.
The World Glacier Monitoring Service findings contain figures from around 100 glaciers, of which 30 form the core assessment, found in Antarctica, Asia, Europe, North America, Latin America and the Pacific.
Dramatic shrinking has been registered at:
However, for the close to 30 reference glaciers only one - Echaurren Norte in Chile - thickened over the same period.
The latest World Glacier Monitoring Service figures are online at: http://www.geo.unizh.ch/wgms/mbb/mbb9/sum06.html
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