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Canadian glaciers now major contributor to sea level changePhoto source: iStock

Canadian glaciers now major contributor to sea level change

15 Feb 2017 | 9:45 PM

WASHINGTON: Ice loss from Canada's Arctic glaciers has transformed them into a major contributor to sea level change, new research has found.

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Washington, February 15

Ice loss from Canada's Arctic glaciers has transformed them into a major contributor to sea level change, new research has found.

Canada holds 25 per cent of all Arctic ice, second only to Greenland.

From 2005 to 2015, surface melt off ice caps and glaciers of the Queen Elizabeth Islands grew by an astonishing 900 per cent, from an average of three to 30 gigatonnes per year, according to glaciologists at University of California, Irvine in the US.

"In the past decade, as air temperatures have warmed, surface melt has increased dramatically," said Romain Millan, an Earth system science doctoral student.

The team found that in the past decade, overall ice mass declined markedly, turning the region into a major contributor to sea level change.

The study provides the first long-term analysis of ice flow to the ocean, from 1991 to 2015.

The Canadian ice cap has glaciers on the move into the Arctic Ocean, Baffin Bay and Nares Strait.

The researchers used satellite data and a regional climate model to tally the "balance" of total gain and loss each year, and the reasons why.

Because of the huge number of glaciers terminating in area marine basins, they expected that discharge into the sea caused by tide water hitting approaching glacier fronts would be the primary cause.

In fact, they determined that until 2005, the ice loss was caused about equally by two factors: calving icebergs from glacier fronts into the ocean accounted for 52 per cent, and melting on glacier surfaces exposed to air contributed 48 per cent.

However, since then, as atmospheric temperatures have steadily climbed, surface melt now accounts for 90 per cent.

Millan said that in recent years ice discharge was only a major component in a few basins, and that even rapid, short term increases from these ice fields only had a minor impact on the long-term trend.

"We identified melt-water runoff as the major contributor to these ice fields' mass loss in recent years. With the ongoing, sustained and rapid warming of the high Arctic, the mass loss of the Queen Elizabeth Islands area is likely to continue to increase significantly in coming decades," Millan added.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. — PTI

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