Canada—famously if misleadingly called home to almost a fifth of the world’s freshwater—is releasing more of it to the global commons. And that is not a good thing.
Most of the freshwater resource within Canada’s borders is either in its share of the Great Lakes—left over from the melting of the continental ice sheet some 12,000 years ago—or still locked in glacial ice on mountains or in the Canadian Arctic. The accelerating retreat of the country’s mountain glaciers is already well recorded. Now it appears the ice on the Queen Elizabeth Islands in the High Arctic is also melting at record speed.
“Researchers from the University of California Irvine,” CBC reports, “studied data collected from 1991 to 2015 [and] found that, from 2005 to 2015, surface melt off these glaciers rose by 900%.” Glaciers on the archipelago “have gone from shedding three gigatons of water annually to 30 gigatons.”
The researchers attribute the order-of-magnitude increase in ice loss to global warming, which has been described by scientists as “beyond extreme” in the polar region. As home to a fifth of the world’s glaciers, CBC says, Canada “is the third-largest contributor to sea level change.”
While that impact is global, there are more immediate concerns from the Arctic melt. For decades, toxic airborne pollutants such as PCBs, DDT, soot, and other compounds have blown downwind from Asia’s industrial regions and settled out of the atmosphere over northern Canada, becoming embedded in the region’s ice. Now that the glaciers are melting, CBC warns, “researchers are finding ‘fairly significant accumulation’ of these compounds in the food chain.”