Retreating Arctic Ice Reveals New Islands

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Climate change is starting to have an indelible impact on the Arctic. As temperatures across the northernmost region of the planet continue to rise, the ice caps found there are now in full retreat and as they melt away they are revealing some hidden secrets that haven’t been seen for quite some time. Satellite photos show that three new islands on the edge of the Devon Ice Cap have been freed from the ice, giving us a glimpse of what sits underneath.

The new islands were spotted by glaciologist Mauri Pelto, who was comparing satellite images from years past with current conditions. The three newly revealed strips of land are each about a half kilometer (.3 miles) across, meaning they aren’t massive but they are substantial. Pelto says they are the largest islands that he’s seen released from the ice so far, although dozens of smaller chunks of rock have been uncovered as well.

The retreat of the glaciers is compounded by something called the albedo effect. In a sense, snow acts as an insulator, blocking the sun’s heat from reaching the glaciers themselves. But as air temperatures have warmed up, the snow is melting and the glaciers are losing their layer of protection. The result is continued shrinkage of the ice that once dominated the Arctic, which is melting into the oceans and causing some rising water levels. The process is actually accelerating the melt off, which is now occurring at a faster rate than researchers had predicted.

Climatologists say that temperatures in the Canadian Arctic have risen about 1ºC (1.8ºF) over the past two decades, which is enough to double the speed at which the glaciers are melting. The Devon Ice Cap isn’t the only one that is showing the signs of the impact of climate change. Pretty much all of the glaciers across northern Canada are shrinking.

Putting aside what this means for our planet, this does mean there will be some interesting opportunities to explore these new landscapes in the future. These islands and other land masses have not been seen for millennia and what they reveal could be fascinating. I’m sure there are already explorers planning on visiting these new places and it will be truly amazing to learn about what they discover there.

Of course, it also means that we’re watching our planet warm up and lose its ice caps, but that is an entirely different issue for sure.

Kraig Becker

2 thoughts on “Retreating Arctic Ice Reveals New Islands”

  1. In the Muir Inlet in Glacier Bay, the ice has retreated all the way to the head of the bay, revealing inter-stadia tree trunks that constituted the forests during the last retreat of glaciers before the current one. Do you think that previous retreat was due to human activity long forgotten or to natural variations in world temperatures?

  2. No, of course not. But if you read the story you’ll see that this warm-up is far faster than anything ever seen before and that we have already matched or surpassed the temperature gain from back then, but rather than having it happen over the course of thousands of years, we’ve had it happen in less than 150.

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