Remember last week when we shared the news that Antarctic ice was melting six times faster than previously recorded? Well, it turns out that isn’t the only continent that has seen climate change impact its glaciers dramatically. A new report from scholarly journal Geophysical Research Letters indicates that in North America the glaciers are in full retreat as well, melting at four times the rate they were just a decade ago.
According to the report, North America’s most stable glaciers have remained relatively unchanged and intact for centuries. Most are found in the northern Rocky Mountains, spreading out across the state of Montana and into British Columbia in Canada. Researchers established a set of monitoring stations back at the turn of the century that work in conjunction with satellite imagery in order to keep tabs on the elevation of the glaciers. If the glaciers are growing, their elevation will climb and if they are melting it will decrease. Unfortunately, you can probably guess what the data has shown.
Climatologists now say that more than 80 percent of the glaciers found in the reign are now losing altitude, indicating that snow and ice aren’t replenishing the supply at a rate that is faster than the melt off. British Columbia’s remote interior has been the hardest hit, with a stunning increase over the past decade. From 2000-2009, North America lost 2.9 gigatons of ice on an annual basis. But from 2009-2018 that number rose to 12.3 gigatons per year, an increase of more than fourfold.
The latest study indicates that shifting weather patterns are partially to blame, with less moisture supplying snow and ice to the glaciers. But an increase in average temperatures is working hand-in-hand with the change in weather too. The result is a one-two punch of variables that are causing the glaciers to melt far more quickly than previously thought.
Just how dire are the predictions? Some climate models show that Glacier National Park, one of the most beautiful and dramatic landscapes in all of the U.S., could be completely free of snow and ice by the 2030s. That’s a pretty sobering thought indeed.
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