In the first long term analysis of ice flow to the Arctic ocean, glaciologists from the University of California, Irvine, have found that sea level change is affected by ice loss from Canada’s Arctic glaciers in a major way. The study analyzed ice flow to the Arctic ocean from 1991 to 2015.
The results of the study were published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. In the article, it is reported that surface melt from glaciers and ice caps of the Queen Elizabeth Islands grew from an average of three gigatons to 30 gigatons per year between 2005 and 2015. This is an increase of a massive 900 percent.
Romain Millan, an Earth system science doctoral student and lead author of the paper, noted that surface melt has increased dramatically in the past decade because of the air temperatures warming up. The team found that the overall ice mass has decreased markedly in the past decade, turning the region into a major contributor to sea level change. Canada holds 25 percent of all Arctic ice, with only Greenland holding more.
Glaciers in the Canadian ice cap move into the Nares Strait, Baffin Bay and Arctic Ocean. Satellite data and a regional climate model were used to calculate the total loss and gain each year.
The researchers predicted that because of the big number of glaciers terminating in marine basins, discharge into the sea caused by tidewater colliding with approaching glacier fronts would be the main cause.
The results actually show that until 2005, the ice loss was caused about equally by two factors. Fifty-two percent was caused by calving icebergs from glacier fronts pushing into the ocean, while the other 48 percent was contributed by melting on glacier surfaces exposed to air. Since then however, surface melt now accounts for 90 percent. This is caused by atmospheric temperatures steadily climbing.
Millan reported that in recent years, ice discharge was only a major contributor in a few basins. He added that even rapid, short-term increases from these ice fields only affected the long-term trend in a minor way.
Millan noted that the study also identified meltwater runoff as the major contributor to the ice fields’ mass loss in recent times. It is likely that the mass loss of the Queen Elizabeth Islands area will continue to increase significantly in coming decades because of the ongoing, sustained and rapid warming of the high Arctic.