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70 Percent of Western Canada’s Glaciers Will Disappear by 2100

And that’s the conservative side of scientists’ ice melt projections

(J. A. Kraulis/Masterfile/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Glaciers have helped shape the iconic mountains of Western Canada, hewing rock into a jagged landscape. But the days of the Canadian Rockies’ magestic glaciers could be numbered—a new report suggests that by 2100, the glaciers of Alberta and British Columbia could lose 70 to 90 percent of their volume.

The study used global climate models and physics to simulate the impact of climate change on Western Canada’s glaciers. With the help of new high-resolution projection tactics, the team was able to look at a number of different scenarios, all of which were dire. By 2100, the team warns, “few glaciers will remain in the Interior and Rockies regions, but maritime glaciers, in particular those in northwestern British Columbia, will survive in a diminished state.”

Projections for the Interior and Rockies regions show a 90 percent loss of both area and volume in most scenarios. The coast is projected to lose 75 percent of its area and 70 percent of its volume. According to researchers, maximum ice melt is set to occur between 2020 and 2040.

All that melting ice could impact everything from tourism to agriculture, forestry, water quality and underwater ecosystems, scientists warn. Garry Clarke, who lead the study, tells AFP that losing Western Canada’s glaciers will mean more than a makeover for the region:

“The disappearance of (the) glaciers... will be a sad loss for those who are touched by the beauty of Canada’s mountain landscapes,” Clarke told AFP.

“When the glaciers have gone, we lose the important services they provide: a buffer against hot, dry spells in late summer that keeps headwater streams flowing and cool, and sustains cool-water aquatic species.”

Though the team emphasizes that it’s not too late to stem the loss of Western Canada’s glaciers, their predictions are a bleak reminder that human activity does impact the earth—especially since glaciers are so responsive to climate. Now, scientists have discovered glaciers on Mars, too. Will they be able to withstand human exploration and population? We’ll check back in a few hundred years.

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