Monday, February 11, 2008

From Canada, the alarming redefinition of 'glacial'

A sad tale from the Star (Canada) about the dwindling ice river in Manitoba: ...The Athabasca Glacier on average recedes, or melts off, 10 metres per year, a retreat that began about 160 years ago and has picked up since the mid-1970s, Charlton says. Though smaller glaciers are shrinking faster, the Athabasca has now lost half its volume and receded more than 1.5 kilometres since its discovery and naming in 1898. Bob Sandford, executive director of the newly formed Western Watersheds Climate Research Collaborative, highlighted other alarming changes during a climate change conference organized by his non-profit organization in November and in his new book, Water, Weather and the Mountain West (Rocky Mountain Books).

"However symbolic the loss of the (Athabasca) glacier may be, what is happening to the snow pack patterns may be even more significant because the Rockies appear to be becoming warmer and drier with significant consequences for already highly stressed eastern slope rivers, which supply water to a huge part of the prairies," he said in a telephone interview from Canmore, Alta. "The peak impact of glacial recession on flow volumes in eastern slope rivers has already occurred."

Mike Demuth, glaciology research scientist for Natural Resources Canada, says the glaciers have been "hit by a double whammy" linked to global warming that causes them to retreat unnaturally fast. Glaciers store snow in the winter and provide meltwater when it's needed most, in the summer. Demuth, who is part of a glaciology group studying the West's mountains, says the region is now experiencing less snow accumulation in the winter, and more melting in the summer caused by warmer temperatures....

Photo of Athabasca Glacier from Wikimedia Commons, uploaded by Bruno Menetrier

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