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Mountains are melting faster: UNEP
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A thaw of the world's glaciers has accelerated to a new record with some of the biggest losses within Europe, in a worrying sign of climate change, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said yesterday.

"Meltdown in the mountains," UNEP said in a statement, saying that a retreat of glaciers from the Andes to the Arctic should add urgency to UN negotiations on working out a new treaty by the end of 2009 to combat global warming.

"Data from close to 30 reference glaciers in nine mountain ranges indicate that between the years 2004-05 and 2005-06 the average rate of melting and thinning more than doubled," it said.

Some of the biggest losses were in Europe - in the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Nordic region - according to the UNEP-backed World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

"The latest figures are part of what appears to be an accelerating trend with no apparent end in sight," WGMS director Wilfried Haeberli said.

The estimates, based on measuring the thickness of glacier ice, indicated an average loss of about 1.5 m in 2006, up from just over 50 cm in 2005.

Since 1980, glaciers have thinned by about 11.5 m in a retreat blamed by the UN Climate Panel mainly on human use of fossil fuels.

The thaw could disrupt everything from farming - millions of people in Asia depend on seasonal melt water from the Himalayas - and power generation to winter sports.

The thaw could also raise world sea levels.

UNEP said glaciers were among the clearest indicators of global warming.

"There are many canaries emerging in the climate change coal mine. The glaciers are perhaps among those making the most noise," said UNEP head Achim Steiner.

Among big losers, Norway's Breidalblikkbrea glacier thinned by almost 3.1 m during 2006 compared with 0.3 m in 2005 and France's Ossoue glacier in the Pyrenees thinned by nearly 3 m versus around 2.7 m in 2005.

Of almost 30 reference glaciers only one - the Echaurren Norte in Chile - thickened in 2006 compared to 2005. The WGMS monitors about 100 glaciers in total.

(China Daily via Agencies March 17, 2008)

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