Melting Glaciers in Canada Could Indicate Acceleration in Global Warming, Researchers Say

Glaciers in Canada are melting more rapidly in a shorter period of time, and researchers warned it’s evidence of accelerated global warming.

In a study of nearly 1,800 glaciers along Ellesmere Island in Canada’s High Arctic, more than 1,350 glaciers shrank as average temperatures in the area rose more than 3 degrees, according to a study published in the Journal of Glaciology. Six percent of all glaciers were lost between 1999 and 2015. Most of them won’t re-accumulate lost ice as global temperatures increase more rapidly now than they have in the last several decades.

The study found small, low-elevation glaciers and floating ice shelves are more likely to shrink and abate. More than 1,050 square miles of glaciers have melted, and more than 50 percent of those that remain are likely to melt in the future, lead author and glaciologist Adrienne White said.

“What I saw when I was measuring was 100 percent of glaciers retreating,” she told CBC in Canada. “They all retreated. Nothing is growing.”

A six-percent loss of Canadian ice coverage over 16 years may seem insignificant, but the results may prove climate change’s effects are hastening. Previous surveys marked a loss of less than 588 square miles over more than 40 years between 1959 and 2000, White wrote in the study.

GettyImages-664085554 Sea ice and a glacier are seen on Ellesmere Island, Canada, in March 2017. A study found glaciers near the island are melting more rapidly over a shorter period of time, perhaps proving the effects of global warming are speeding up too, researchers say. (Photo by Mario Tarna/Getty Images)

Much of climate change policy reflects the “widely held misconception” that the impact of carbon emissions won’t hit for several decades, but a 2014 study suggests it now takes only a decade for maximum warming to occur and persist for likely more than a century. In the past, it has taken 40 to 50 years for carbon dioxide emissions to hike up global temperatures, but researchers say current generations will feel the direct effects sooner than expected.

Quickly rising sea levels also pose a threat to Ellesmere Island’s nearby ecosystems. Animals like polar bears, musk ox and caribou who hunt and breed on the now-melting ice shelves face extinction as their habitats diminish. Since the first survey of the region in 1906, the island has lost more than 90 percent of its original ice cover, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia.

“None of the standard climate models that incorporate sea ice had projected such a rapid decline, indicating that Arctic sea ice is more susceptible to climate change than was previously thought,” encyclopedist James Marsh wrote in the entry.

Glacier shrinkage instigated by rising temperatures occurred on the opposite pole, too: A 2017 study found a group of Antarctic glaciers lost three times the amount of ice as usual over a four-year period and moved toward the sea at a faster pace than previously recorded. While one region’s melted glaciers will likely raise sea level by less than a millimeter, the rate of sea level rise has rapidly increased. In 2008, NASA climate researchers measured an almost 2-inch change in sea level. The last count, in February, measured nearly a 3.5-inch difference within less than 10 years.

Join the Discussion