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Report spotlights rapid glacier melt in western Canada

Marc Montgomery, Radio Canada International

Western Canada’s snow-capped mountains with their thousands of glaciers are always a spectacular sight. But that sight is changing, and rapidly.

The glaciers in Canada and Alaska are melting at a phenomenal rate and an American state-of-the-union report on climate change has singled out the rapid melt in British Columbia and Alaska as a major climate-change issue

There are 200,000 glaciers on Earth, 17,000 of them in British Columbia. Another 800 are in Alberta.

The British Columbia glaciers alone are losing 777 billion cubic feet of water each year. That’s equivalent to filling with water and emptying a large major sports stadium about 8,300 times.

The U.S. National Climate Assessment for 2014, has singled out glacier melt in Canada and Alaska as a major climate change issue.

It says glacier melt will become one of the largest contributors to sea-level rise during this century adding that the melting glaciers also affect ocean currents, fisheries and hydro-electric power production and it says the northern glaciers are experiencing some of the fastest decline on earth.

Brian Menounos is leading an international research program into the changing state of British Columbia's glaciers. He is an associate professor of earth sciences and Canada research chairman in glacier change at the University of Northern British Columbia.

Menounous estimates that most of the smaller glaciers in the Rocky Mountains and interior will be completely gone by the end of this century.

Farther south, the U.S. Geological Service estimates that the famous Glacier National Park will be gone by as early as 2030, roughly 15 years from now.

The loss of glaciers also would represent a loss of mitigating moisture in the late season affecting agriculture and water supply to lakes, streams and wetlands.

“Glaciers are sensitive indicators of climate, but they are also among western Canada’s most important freshwater resources,” says Menounos.

Menounos and the team, which included researchers from Universities in Alberta, British Columbia and Washington state in addition to scientists from the federal government, documented recent glacier retreat and the current health of glaciers in order to be able to predict what their fate will be in the decades ahead. A summary of their research is currently being prepared.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.