Canadian glaciers face drastic demise

Simulation forecasts 70 percent ice loss by end of century, adding to sea level rise

Athabasca Glacier

SHRINKING BACK   Western Canadian glaciers such as Athabasca Glacier, shown, will lose most of their ice by the end of the century, a new study predicts.

BitHead/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The Great White North may lose its glaciers faster than previously thought. A detailed physics simulation of how glaciers melt in a warming world show that Western Canada’s glaciers will shed 70 percent of their ice by 2100 relative to their 2005 volumes, researchers report online April 6 in Nature Geoscience. That level of melt would raise global sea levels by roughly 4.4 millimeters and reshape the region’s landscape.

Western Canadian glaciers cover 26,700 square kilometers, an area larger than Vermont. Each glacier melts differently than its siblings depending on its shape and location. Most previous projections ignore or greatly simplify the ice-melt physics that makes each glacier’s fate unique. Glaciologist Garry Clarkeof the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and colleagues instead created a highly detailed 3-D simulation of how different glaciers melt. The team’s revised projections predict over 25 percent more ice loss than previous studies, with peak melting occurring between 2020 and 2040. Mountain glaciers will fare the worst, the team found, losing 90 percent of their 2005 volumes by the end of the century.

The researchers say with a little tweaking their work will provide more accurate ice loss predictions for glaciers elsewhere in the world.

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