A new study has revealed that 70% of glacier ice in Western Canada could disappear by the end of the 21st century.
The study, conducted by researchers at University of British Columbia, warned that as a result of the disappearance of those glaciers in British Columbia and Alberta, there will emerge some major problems for local ecosystems, power supplies, and water quality.
The study is a collaboration between UBC, the University of Northern British Columbia, the University of Iceland, and the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium.
According to researchers, warming temperatures are threatening glaciers in Western Canada, and that not all glaciers are retreating at the same rate. The Rocky Mountains could lose up to 90% of its glaciers. The wetter coastal mountains in northwestern B.C. are only expected to lose about half of their glacier volume.
“Most of our ice holdouts at the end of the century will be in the northwest corner of the province,” said Garry Clarke, professor emeritus in the Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Soon our mountains could look like those in Colorado or California and you don’t see much ice in those landscapes.”
There are more than 17,000 glaciers in B.C. and Alberta.
According to Clarke, increased precipitation due to climate change could help compensate for glacier loss. The greatest impact, according to him, will be on freshwater ecosystems. During the late summer, glacier melt provides cool, plentiful water to many of the region’s headwaters.
“These glaciers act as a thermostat for freshwater ecosystems,” Clarke said. “Once the glaciers are gone, the streams will be a lot warmer and this will hugely change fresh water habitat. We could see some unpleasant surprises in terms of salmon productivity.”
Researchers predicted changes in the area and volume of glaciers in western Canada under a range of greenhouse gas emission scenarios used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their most recent assessment of the state of the climate system. According to researchers, the impact of climate change on glacier health may not be evident at first sight. While the surface area covered by the glacier may not be changing, the glaciers are thinning at a rate of about one meter per year.
“Most glaciers are only 100 to 200 meters thick,” Clarke said. “They’re losing volume, but this loss we’re seeing right now is a bit hidden.”
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