The world's glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, calling for immediate action to prevent further constraints on water resources for large populations, UN data released Sunday showed.
"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," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The culprit is climate change, according to data from the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), based at the University of Zurich and supported by UNEP.
The centre drew its findings from nearly 30 glaciers in nine mountain ranges revealing that in 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 the average rate of melting more than doubled.
"The latest figures are part of what appears to be an accelerating trend with no apparent end in sight," said Wilfried Haeberli, director of WGMS.
According to UNEP, the growth has particularly sped up in the past few years, with what had been a record loss for two decades -- 0.7 metres (2.3 feet) in 1998 -- having been exceeded in three of the past six years.
Steiner said that "it is absolutely essential that everyone sits up and takes notice," adding that the forecast is not entirely gloomy given the growth of the so-called green economy.
However, Steiner said the 2009 climate convention in Copenhagen will provide the true litmus test of governments' commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the carbon pollution from fossil fuels damaging Earth's climate system.
"Otherwise, and like the glaciers, our room for manoeuvre and the opportunity to act may simply melt away."
WGMS measures the thinning of glaciers in terms of water equivalen, for instance, estimating that in 2006 shrinking was equivalent to 1.4 metres of water equivalent, compared with half a metre in 2005.
Some glaciers have particularly suffered, such as Norway's Breidalblikkbrea glacier, which thinned almost 3.1 metres in 2006 compared with 0.3 metres in 2005.
Other glaciers to have experienced dramatic loss in Europe are Austria's Grosser Goldbergkees glacier, France's Ossoue glacier, Italy's Malavalle glacier, Spain's Maladeta glacier, Sweden's Storglaciaeren glacier and Switzerland's Findelen glacier.
However, of the 30 glaciers WGMS tracks for changes, four percent have thickened.
Here is a nice picture of the Rongbu glacier at Mount Everest, and shows the first view, in 1968, and the second view, in 2007.
Humanity, prepare for your medicine!
I think I need another strong drink after this!