Canada's Glaciers Are Melting 900 Percent Faster Since 2005

Canadian glaciers account for a huge portion of Arctic ice. As the planet warms, meltwater is eating away at them at an astonishing rate.

About a quarter of all Arctic land ice outside of Greenland is found in the glaciers and ice caps of the Queen Elizabeth Islands in Canada. The ice covers more than 40,000 square miles, and a new study reports that it began to melt dramatically faster in 2005 than it had in previous years.

Before 2005 the glaciers were relatively stable, seeing surface melt of three gigatons every year, as ice flowed to the ocean. But between 2005 and 2015, that figure jumped by 900 percent, averaging 30 gigatons of ice loss per year.

The research was conducted by scientists at the University of California, Irvine, and published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

"Prior to 2005, the rate of mass loss was low," the authors wrote. "After 2005, the mass loss increased markedly to transform the [Queen Elizabeth Islands] into a major contributor to sea level change."

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The study suggests that before 2005, the loss of ice mass was divided about evenly from calving icebergs and melting on the glacier surface. But after 2005, as the atmosphere warmed, surface melt was shown to cause 90 precent of ice loss.

Using satellite data and a regional climate model, the researchers explored from 1991 to 2015 how much ice was lost each year and why. They expected to find that glaciers moving into the Arctic Ocean, Baffin Bay and Nares straight were primarily affected by tide water meeting the glacier fronts.

Instead they found that the driving force of the ice fields' mass loss was meltwater. "In the past decade, as air temperatures have warmed, surface melt has increased dramatically," said lead author Romain Millan, in a statement.

As human-driven global climate change continues, the situation is unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future.

"With ongoing, sustained, rapid warming of the high Arctic," the authors wrote, "the mass loss of Queen Elizabeth Islands should continue to increase significantly in the coming decades to century."

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