The Yukon Territory’s massive glaciers are declining even faster than climate models have predicted, prompting the Canadian Alpine Club to push for wider public awareness in its latest State of the Mountains report.
The report warns that the St. Elias Mountains, which cover parts of British Columbia, Yukon, and Alaska, “are losing ice faster than the rest of the country,” The Guardian reports.
“The region is one of the hotspots for warming, which is something we’ve come to realize over the last 15 years,” said report co-editor David Hik of Simon Fraser University. “The magnitude of the changes is dramatic.”
Over a 60-year period, “we’re seeing a 20% difference in area coverage of the glaciers in Kluane National Park and Reserve and the rest of the UNESCO world heritage site,” agreed Parks Canada field unit superintendent Diane Wilson. “We’ve never seen that. It’s outside the scope of normal.”
Hiks added that “when I first went to the St Elias range, it felt like time travel— into the past.” But “what we’re seeing now feels like time travel into the future. Because as the massive glaciers are retreating, they’re causing a complete reorganization of the environment.”
Citing the latest annual report card published by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), The Guardian says the Arctic is warming at twice the average global rate. The Alpine Club found the resulting acceleration in glacier loss “has resulted in major shifts to water sources at lower elevations,” the paper states.
“In 2016, the meltwaters of the glacier shifted dramatically away from the Slims River, cutting off critical water supplies to Kluane Lake—a UNESCO world heritage site. Since the diversion, water levels at the lake have dropped more than 6.6 feet—stranding thousands of fish from their natural spawning rivers.” Hik called that event a sign of things to come.
Meanwhile, “dust storms have begun to flare up along sections of the well-travelled Alaska Highway—at times halting traffic, the result of a dry river bed covered in glacial silt,” the Guardian adds. “The dramatic changes to the landscape come amid predictions that the Arctic region is slated to experience far quicker—and potentially devastating—warming in the coming years.”
Report co-author Zac Robinson of the University of Alberta added that “these types of events aren’t isolated to glacial events in the St Elias,” noting that “we’re slated to lose 80% of the ice cover in the Rocky Mountains over the next 50 years.”