Canada's Arctic glaciers, ice caps losing water at an alarming rate

May 04, 2011
Study finds Canada's arctic glaciers and ice caps losing water at an alarming rate
The rate of ice loss in Canada’s Arctic sharply increased between 2004 and 2009, with ice loss increasing to as much as 93 cubic kilometres a year.

(PhysOrg.com) -- The work of Faculty of Science PhD graduate Alex Gardner -- published in Nature magazine in April -- has revealed some alarming evidence that Canada's Arctic glaciers and ice caps have lost nearly as much water as there is in Lake Erie.

Gardner, a former student of Earth and professor Martin Sharp (A co-author on the paper), spent six years monitoring and found that in 2009 the ice-loss rate was four times larger than estimated by NASA for the mid- to late-1990s.

The measurements Gardner and his colleagues made on the ice and with satellites show the rate of ice loss "sharply increased" between 2004 and 2009, with ice loss increasing to as much as 93 cubic kilometres a year.

Gardner, who now works at the University of Michigan, conducted most of the research during his time at the U of A and says the ice loss has increased sharply "in direct response to warmer summer temperatures" since 2004. The losses have been so sharp that he and his colleagues believe the Canadian Arctic Archipelago was the single largest contributor to global sea-level rise outside Greenland and Antarctica between 2007 and 2009.

"Even though these Canadian and ice caps are small compared to the huge ice sheets, they play a significant role in sea level rise," says Gardner.

The glaciers and ice caps are dwarfed by the colossal next door. But the researchers say they are a major player in the climate-change equation because they hold so much water and are "highly sensitive" to rising temperatures.

"The amount of water contained in all of the ice caps and glaciers in the Canadian Arctic are three-and-a-half times larger than all of the water in all of the Great Lakes," says Gardner.

Add it up and over those six years, Gardner says, and the equivalent of three-quarters of the water in Lake Erie ran off Canada's Arctic glaciers and ice caps and poured into the . "If the Great Lakes drained by that much, I think that would really wake people up to the changes that are occurring," says Gardner.

Ninety-nine per cent of the world's land ice is trapped in the Antarctica and Greenland Ice Sheets. But they account for about only half of the land-ice now melting into the oceans, in part because they are cold enough that ice only melts at their edges.

The other half of the ice melt contributing to comes from smaller mountain glaciers and ice caps in the Canadian Arctic, Alaska, Patagonia and other regions, the researchers say.
The glaciers in the Canadian Arctic only hold 0.3 per cent of the world’s land ice but are contributing nearly10 per cent of all ice loss to the world’s oceans. Ice in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago is the focus of growing international attention.

Teams from NASA, Europe and Canada are currently on the Canadian ice cap on Devon Island monitor the changes underway, says Sharp. The team on the ground will measure the characteristics of the ice and snow, while planes from NASA and Europe fly over the ice cap in coming weeks, along with an ice-monitoring satellite, making measurements from the air.

The work will build on the data used in the study, which was gathered by satellites and ground crews between 2004 and 2009. Temperatures were just 1 C to 1.6 C warmer in high-melt summers, says Sharp. That does not sound like much, but he says it was enough to extend the melt season on the ice caps by more than 25 per cent.

Four large glaciers in Canada's High Arctic have been continuously monitored since 1963, and "a third to half" of all the ice mass loss that has occurred since measurements began has happened in the last five years, says Sharp.

He says one of the most significant findings of the study is that Canada's Arctic glaciers are about twice as sensitive to ice loss as temperatures climb as expected, suggesting that models used to predict what could happen in future "may be unduly conservative."

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User comments : 8

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joefarah
1.4 / 5 (10) May 04, 2011
I'm still waiting for the day when I can head north for my winter vacation... let me know when it arrives. I'm still wondering why land values aren't rising in the north-central US given the exodus of 50M people predicted by the end of last year from the sea-rising advocates, along with the rise in temperature that will make the south too hot.

By the way how many of the 50M people were forced to move? What do you mean, zero? Please don't tell me those predictions were slightly off and that we spent $10s billion avoiding something that was just a false rumor.

Is that why all the coastal cities are building huge levees? What do you mean you haven't seen them? What are they waiting for? They'll be sorry, just wait. Oh, you won't live that long. Well, let's see what happens first - the sun running out of nuclear fuel (only 7B years), or New York sunk.
lengould100
4.4 / 5 (10) May 04, 2011
Is that why all the coastal cities are building huge levees?
Seen London's Thames Barage lately? Or the Venice defences? No of course not, you're a yank and nothing exists outside the US.
Skeptic_Heretic
4.4 / 5 (7) May 04, 2011
I'm still waiting for the day when I can head north for my winter vacation... let me know when it arrives. I'm still wondering why land values aren't rising in the north-central US given the exodus of 50M people predicted by the end of last year from the sea-rising advocates, along with the rise in temperature that will make the south too hot.
Probably because there's no usable water sources in the area if all the snowpacks are not persistent, dummy.
No of course not, you're a yank and nothing exists outside the US.
No, I'm a Yank, he's just a jerk-off.
d_robison
2 / 5 (4) May 04, 2011
Is that why all the coastal cities are building huge levees?
Seen London's Thames Barage lately? Or the Venice defences? No of course not, you're a yank and nothing exists outside the US.


Generalization of an entire country is as ignorant as the first poster of this article.
Quantum_Conundrum
2.1 / 5 (7) May 04, 2011
Is that why all the coastal cities are building huge levees?
Seen London's Thames Barage lately? Or the Venice defences? No of course not, you're a yank and nothing exists outside the US.


Bad example.

Venice has been flooding since long before any alleged man made global warming could possibly have been an issue.
Moebius
4 / 5 (4) May 04, 2011
It's only alarming to those smart enough to already be alarmed.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (4) May 06, 2011
It's only alarming to those smart enough to already be alarmed


What does the history of alarmism look like? Are they usually right or are they usually wrong?

Additionally, what does our record look like on trying to do things to 'help'? How many times have we produced the desired results and how many times have we caused some unintended consequence because we acted before we knew what we were doing?

I've been hearing about how we are going to run out of oil all my life, as well as overpopulation and food shortages. I even heard somebody say one time that we will eventually run out of room to burry our dead. lol.

Remember those really smart people who said that the H bomb would ignite the atmosphere? Oh boy.
PinkElephant
3.7 / 5 (3) May 07, 2011
What does the history of alarmism look like?
What does the history of denialism look like?
what does our record look like on trying to do things to 'help'?
Some of the topically relevant examples being, the acid rain reduction scheme, the CFC ban, catalytic converter mandates, lead paint and asbestos bans, earthquake and fire construction codes, etc. etc. etc...
we acted before we knew what we were doing
The implication being that YOU don't know what we're doing. There's a remedy for that, you kno...
I've been hearing about how we are going to run out of oil all my life
And it's happening as you type.
overpopulation and food shortages
Ditto.
Remember those really smart people who said that the H bomb would ignite the atmosphere?
Remember those really smart people who said the Earth is too vast for a measly 6,000,000,000 humans and all their high-powered civilization to make any impact?