Melting glaciers could create new ecosystems covering an area between the size of Nepal and Finland by the year 2100, researchers said.
Glacial area outside the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets could be halved because of human-caused climate change under a high-emissions scenario, they said in a study published in the journal Nature.
This glacial melting could cause a rapid ecological shift as novel ecosystems develop to fill emerging new habitat, they wrote.
However, analyses of this change at a global scale are lacking, they said.
Jean-Baptiste Bosson, from the Conservatory of Natural Areas of Haute-Savoie, France, and colleagues used a global glacier evolution model to examine the predicted twenty-first century trajectory of 650,000 square kilometres (sqkm) of glaciers found outside the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.
Deglaciation, or glacial retreat, will continue to occur at a similar rate regardless of the climate scenario until 2040, the modelling predicted using glacier outlines, digital elevation models of subglacial terrain and climatic data.
After 2040, estimates diverged depending on the severity of emission release, the study said.
Under a high-emissions scenario, whereby global greenhouse gas emissions triple by 2075, about half of 2020 glacier area could be lost by 2100, the researchers said.
However, this could be curbed by a low-emissions scenario, whereby net zero is achieved by 2050, which would reduce this glacial loss to approximately 22 per cent.
The model was also able to predict the characteristics of emerging ecosystems in deglaciated areas, which were classified into marine, freshwater or terrestrial categories.
It predicted glacial melting to expose an area of land between roughly the size of Nepal and Finland by the end of the century.
Further, the model classified these habitats as 78 per cent terrestrial, 14 per cent marine and 8 per cent freshwater.
These areas could provide refuge for cold-adapted species displaced by warming elsewhere, the researchers said.
They said that alongside continued efforts to mitigate further glacial decline, these new ecosystems presented a new focus for researchers as they would require resources to ensure their protection and secure their future.
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