From 1850 to the 1970s, glaciers in the European Alps lost about 35 percent of their area. The melting then sped up, and now the 5,150 glaciers cover about 50 percent of the area they did in 1850.
By the end of this century, they could be nearly gone, according to a new computer model.
The projection, from scientists at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. will be published July 15 in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.
It indicates that if summer air temperatures rise by 5 degrees Fahrenheit (3 Celsius) by the end of the century, 80 percent of the glacier cover will be gone. If summer temperatures were to increase by 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 Celsius), the Alps would become almost completely ice-free by 2100.
The forecast is based on temperature projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has stated that an increase in summer air temperatures of 2 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 5 Celsius) is plausible.
"Our study shows that under such scenarios, the majority of Alpine glaciers might disappear within the coming decades," said glaciologist Michael Zemp, lead author of the new study.
The scenario is similar elsewhere.
Recent research at Glacier National Park in Montana found 26 named glaciers today, down from 150 in 1850.
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