Study: Melting Glaciers In Canada Now Major Contributor To Sea Level Rise

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During the time period of 2005 through 2015, the surface melt of glaciers and ice caps associated with the Queen Elizabeth Islands in Northern Canada grew by around 900% — to around 30 gigatons a year, up from around 3 gigatons a year in 2005 — according to new research from the University of California, Irvine.

In other words, the new study has made it clear that northern Canada’s melting glaciers are now a major contributor to global sea level rise.

“In the past decade, as air temperatures have warmed, surface melt has increased dramatically,” commented lead author Romain Millan, an Earth system science doctoral student.

This is important because Canada currently possesses around 25% of the Arctic total ice reserves — the only Arctic region with a greater quantity of ice than Northern Canada is Greenland.

The press release provides more:

“The Canadian ice cap has glaciers on the move into the Arctic Ocean, Baffin Bay and Nares Strait. The researchers used satellite data and a regional climate model to tally the ‘balance’ of total gain and loss each year, and the reasons why. Because of the huge number of glaciers terminating in area marine basins, they expected that discharge into the sea caused by tide water hitting approaching glacier fronts would be the primary cause.

“In fact, they determined that until 2005, the ice loss was caused about equally by two factors: calving icebergs from glacier fronts into the ocean accounted for 52%, and melting on glacier surfaces exposed to air contributed 48%. But since then, as atmospheric temperatures have steadily climbed, surface melt now accounts for 90%.”

Yet another data point showing that current and previous predictions regarding the speed at which the effects of anthropogenic climate change will begin hitting in earnest is an underestimate.

Millan continued: “We identified meltwater runoff as the major contributor to these ice fields’ mass loss in recent years. With the ongoing, sustained and rapid warming of the high Arctic, the mass loss of the Queen Elizabeth Islands area is likely to continue to increase significantly in coming decades.”

While my opinion may just be one amongst 7.5 billion or so (if we don’t count any of the other denizens of the world, other than people), I’ll note here that I’ll be very surprised if there aren’t a number of very large meltwater pulses within my lifetime — and with them, more or less the destruction of a number of the world’s largest cities.

The new findings are discussed in a paper published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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