Accelerated melting of glaciers in Alaska could be irreversible

Accelerated melting of glaciers in Alaska could be irreversible
Accelerated melting of glaciers in Alaska could be irreversible

Glacier melting on a major Alaskan ice field has accelerated and may reach an irreversible tipping point earlier than expected. New research from Newcastle University has revealed that glacier loss in the Juneau Ice Field, located between Alaska and British Columbia, Canada, has increased dramatically since 2010.

The team, which included universities from the UK, US and Europe, analyzed records from 1770 and identified three distinct periods of ice field volume change. Volume loss remained constant between 1770 and 1979, varying between 0.65 and 1.01 km³ per year. Between 1979 and 2010, it increased to 3.08–3.72 km³ per year. From 2010 to 2020, the rate of ice loss doubled, reaching 5.91 km³ per year.

The research, published in Nature Communicationsfound that the rates of surface shrinkage of glaciers in the ice field were five times faster between 2015 and 2019 compared to the period 1948-1979. In total, ice loss on the Juneau Ice Field between 1770 and 2020 (315.3 +/- 237.5 km³) represented almost a quarter of the original volume.

The increase in the rate of weight loss is also accompanied by increased fragmentation of glaciers. The team mapped an increase in disconnections, where the lower parts of a glacier separate from the upper parts. In addition, 100% of the glaciers mapped in 2019 had retreated relative to their position in 1770, and 108 glaciers had disappeared completely.

Dr Bethan Davies, senior lecturer at Newcastle University and leader of the study, said: “It is incredibly worrying that our research has uncovered a rapid acceleration since the beginning of the 21st century in the rate of glacier loss on the Juneau Icefield. Alaska’s ice fields, which are predominantly flat plateaus, are particularly vulnerable to accelerated melting due to climate warming, as ice loss occurs across the entire surface, affecting a larger area.”

Alaska contains some of the largest plateau ice fields in the world and Its melting contributes significantly to the current rise in sea level. Researchers believe the processes observed in Juneau are likely affecting other similar ice fields in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway and other regions of the high Arctic.

*This content was created with the assistance of artificial intelligence. The information was provided and reviewed by a journalist to ensure its accuracy. The content was not generated automatically.

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