Most Western Canadian glaciers to disappear within 80 years

Most Western Canadian glaciers to disappear within 80 years

An international team of scientists used a supercomputer at UNBC to calibrate their findings as they studied the effects of climate change on glaciers in western Canada and around the world. Her work is the cover story in the latest issue of Science magazine.

A child born today will witness the near disappearance of one of Western Canada’s most iconic symbols – the glacier.

In an article in the journal Science, an international team of researchers describes the impact that various greenhouse gas emission scenarios will have on Earth’s glaciers. The climate pledges of the 2021 Conference of the Parties (COP-26) would increase global temperatures by +2.7 degrees Celsius, contribute an additional 115 millimeters (± 40 mm) of sea level rise and deglacialize most mid-latitude mountain regions.

In the paper titled Global Glacial Change in the 21st Century: Every Rise in Temperature Matters, the Science describes that by the end of the century, most of Earth’s remaining glacial ice will reside in southeast Alaska’s Northern Coast Mountains, Yukon northeastern Canadian and Russian Arctic and mountains fringing the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets.

“Even if global temperatures were to rise 2°C above pre-industrial levels, mountains in the Middle East, Caucasus, central Europe, Middle East, northern Asia and western Canada, and the continental US are expected to experience widespread deglaciation experience,” said Dr. David Rounce, lead author and assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

In western Canada and elsewhere, glaciers provide cool, plentiful water in late summer when the seasonal snow has melted or during years of drought. But continued emissions of greenhouse gases will deplete these frozen freshwater reservoirs for decades to come.

“Unfortunately, our collective inaction in reducing our dependence on fossil fuel use has already resulted in significant mass loss from our glaciers for the foreseeable future,” said Professor Dr. Brian Menounos, member of Hakai and UNBC, co-author of the study and Canada Research Chair in Glacier Change.

“Our latest work confirms the results of an earlier study for western Canada, which indicated widespread deglaciation in the mountains of western Canada by the end of this century. Our current study uses the latest climate projections published in the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment, improved physical representations of glaciers, and new approaches to calibrating physically-based models that simulate the response of Earth’s glaciers to future climate.”

To calibrate their projections, the researchers used data processed by a supercomputer at UNBC, which created digital elevation models based on satellite imagery. Jointly funded by UNBC and the Tula Foundation, the computer enabled researchers to analyze more than 440,000 images.

The latest results show that glaciers will continue to lose significant mass until around 2040, regardless of emission pathways. After 2040, however, glacier mass loss depends on projected greenhouse gas emissions, which ultimately control global temperatures.

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