Canadian Ice Shelves Breaking up at High Speed


Canadian ice shelves are changing at an unexpected rate, with almost 50 per cent lost in the last six years, experts say.

Map of Ellesmere Island ice shelves at the end of August 2011.

Map of Ellesmere Island ice shelves at the end of August 2011. Ice shelves are outlined in black. Left to Right: Serson (A and B), Petersen, Milne and Ward Hunt (West and East). August 26, 2011 MODIS image from the Rapid Response Project at NASA/GSFC. Map courtesy of Derek Mueller, Carleton University.

Carleton University’s Derek Mueller says this summer has resulted in the near-complete loss of one important ice shelf and the largest remaining shelf separated into two distinct remnants.

“This is our coastline changing,” says Mueller, a researcher in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies. “These unique and massive geographical features that we consider to be part of the map of Canada are disappearing and they won’t come back.”

After taking stock of this summer’s changes using satellite imagery, Mueller notes that the ice shelves have declined appreciably nearly every summer since 2005. This rapid attrition will have lasting effects, he says.

This summer alone, most of the Serson Ice Shelf broke away and the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf has now split into two separate pieces. This ice loss equals up to three billion tonnes or about 500 times the mass of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

“Since the end of July, pieces equaling one and a half times the size of Manhattan Island have broken off,” says Luke Copland, researcher in the Department of Geography at the University of Ottawa.  He warns that oil companies need to sit up and take notice as more icebergs will be floating down from the North and may threaten rigs in locations such as the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Mueller blames a combination of warmer temperatures and open water for recent ice shelf calving. “The ice shelves were formed and sustained in a different climate than what we have now. As they disappear, it implies we are returning to conditions unseen in the Arctic for thousands of years.”

Arctic ice shelves, old and thick, are relatively rare. They are markedly different than sea ice, which is typically less than a few metres thick and survives up to several years. Canada has the most extensive ice shelves in the Arctic along the northern coast of Ellesmere Island. These floating ice masses are typically 40 metres thick (equivalent to a 10-storey building), but can be as much as 100 metres thick. They thickened over time via snow and sea ice accumulation, along with glacier inflow in certain places, and are thought to have been in place over most of the past several thousand years .

Mueller and Copland’s research into ice shelf changes is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and ArcticNet.  Natural Resources Canada’s Polar Continental Shelf Program provided logistical support for the research conducted in the Canadian Arctic.

Background:

The degradation of the Serson Ice Shelf was noted by the Canadian Ice Service, Environment Canada at the beginning of August (http://www.ec.gc.ca/glaces-ice/). CIS provided imagery that was important for the delineation of the current ice extent.

The Ellesmere Island ice shelves are known to harbour unique microbial life, which are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Professor Warwick Vincent, director of the Centre for Northern Studies at Laval University, has studied these organisms since 1998. His team is based each summer at Ward Hunt Island in Quttinirpaaq National Park to monitor the ecological shift from ice-dependent to open water ecosystems.

Professor John England, an NSERC Northern Chair at the University of Alberta, has inferred that the ice shelves have been in place for up to 5,500 years from examining driftwood and other materials that he found behind them.

The Serson Ice Shelf is named after Harold Serson (1926-1992) a scientist with the Defence Research Board who contributed to the study of ice shelves and related phenomena along the northern coast of Ellesmere Island.

Images and maps are available at:
http://http-server.carleton.ca/~dmueller/iceshelves/summer2011.html

For more information:

Caitlin Kealey
Media Relations
Carleton University
613-520-2600, ext. 8718
613-818-7956
Caitlin_Kealey@carleton.ca

Derek Mueller
Dept. of Geography & Environmental Studies
Carleton University
613-520-2600, ext. 1984
derek_mueller@carleton.ca

Luke Copland
Dept. of Geography
University of Ottawa
613-562-5800, ext. 2826
luke.copland@uottawa.ca

About these ads
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Canadian Ice Shelves Breaking up at High Speed

  1. Alan Burke says:

    The Globe & Mail newspaper had reported on this in the story Canadian Arctic nearly loses entire ice shelf from global warming – The Globe and Mail but that appears to have been withdrawn.

    See also Canadian ice shelves breaking up at high speed and Information and imagery

  2. David Wilson says:

    yes, I too caught the Globe article before it disappeared (?)
    for clarity I found the names of the individual shelves and put them onto the high-res maps for
    2005: Ellesmere Island Ice Shelves 2005 and
    2011: Ellesmere Island Ice Shelves 20111
    on their site they say, “In 1906, the Ellesmere Island ice shelves were an estimated 8900 km2 and were reduced to 1043 km2 over the last century. The total extent of Ellesmere ice shelves is now 563 km2 or 54 per cent of what it was prior to the loss of the Ayles Ice Shelf in August 2005.”

    in days gone by we might have said such information was ‘chilling’ – I guess we will have to develop a new idiom to express something which is truely frightening, but warm :-)

  3. Christine says:

    So that’s what happened to that G & M article – how strange! Any thoughts on why they would do that?

    • Alan Burke says:

      It does seem rather unprecedented but I’m a little baffled because both Carleton U and Ottawa U continue to display their articles / press releases so I doubt that the authors have withdrawn the study.

      I can only presume that pressure from within the G&M or imposed from outside (e.g., perhaps from the feds) was exerted. The CBC is still carrying it as far as I know. No justification, feedback or response has been offered by the G&M although I haven’t escalated to their management / executives and doubt that I shall – they’ve been studiously unresponsive to my other emails to them, primarily around their dysfunctional “moderation”.

  4. Alan Burke says:

    Here’s the CBC article: Canadian ice shelves breaking up at record speed
    Region lost almost half its ice shelves in last six years

    Researchers say ice shelves in the Canadian Arctic are breaking up and changing at an unexpectedly fast rate.

    They say the region lost almost half its ice shelf extent in the last six years. This summer alone saw the Serson ice shelf almost completely disappear and the Ward Hunt shelf split in half. The ice loss equals about three billion tonnes, or about 500 times the mass of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

    “This is our coastline changing,” says Derek Mueller, from Carleton University’s department of geography and environmental studies. “These unique and massive geographical features that we consider to be a part of the map of Canada are disappearing and they won’t come back.”

    The researchers say the reason for the change is a combination of warmer temperatures and open water. The ice shelves were formed and sustained in a colder climate. The researchers say their disappearance suggests a possible return to conditions unseen in the Arctic for thousands of years. …

  5. David Wilson says:

    well, I bet Caitlin Kealey & Derek Mueller & Luke Copland have an inkling, wouldn’t you say? that seems like the obvious place to start – so I will email them, we do have their email addresses – and maybe they will answer, either way, I will come back in a few days to report

    unfortunately I did not keep a copy of the text of the Globe article as used to be my habit with anything I referenced in my blog – but I gave it up, ai ai ai! laziness! you didn’t keep a copy by any chance did you?

    as for the images, do what you will, I see that your blog machinery automatically rescales and then requires jiggery-pokery to see them at full 1600×670 (at least when viewing in Mozilla) … interesting … not being able to see very well makes me try to get things at a scale where I can see them, but it also makes me choose colours which really don’t work out very well … oh well.

  6. Alan Burke says:

    Thanks David. I’ll be unavailable on Wed. but I look forward to a response to your email and would be pleased to follow up here.

    Sadly I didn’t make a copy of the article but I believe it didn’t depart very far from the press releases by Carleton U. and Ottawa U.

  7. Alan Burke says:

    Here’s the email correspondence:
    —–Original Message—–
    From: David Wilson [mailto:davidleewilson@gmail.com]
    Sent: October 3, 2011 11:22 PM
    To: Caitlin Kealey; Derek Mueller; Luke Copland
    Cc: Alan Burke
    Subject: what happened to the Globe article referencing your (excellent) work?

    Caitlin, Derek, Luke,

    a few of us noticed the Globe article referencing your work on the Ellesmere ice shelves, and followed it up to find your website – but then the Globe article disappeared, and I am wondering if you have any inkling of why it disappeared?

    you can see our ruminations on Alan Burke’s blog, here:
    http://climateinsight.wordpress.com/2011/09/27/canadian-ice-shelves-breaking-up-at-high-speed/
    (and also on my own, here:
    http://whoami-whoareyou.blogspot.com/2011/10/ottawa-tar-sands-action-on-parliament.html#Otsa2S04
    and slide down a bit)
    I took the liberty of putting labels on the 2005 & 2011 high-res images you provided – I hope you don’t mind, just trying to get it straight

    any info you have will be appreciated if you care to share it

    be well, David Wilson.
    ______
    Subject: RE: what happened to the Globe article referencing your (excellent) work?
    Date: Tue, 4 Oct 2011 13:42:31 +0000
    From: Luke Copland
    To: David Wilson , Caitlin Kealey , Derek Mueller
    CC: Alan Burke

    Hi David,

    Thanks for bringing the item to our attention. We saw the original article in the Globe and Mail, but didn’t know that it had been taken off their website now. However, we don’t believe that there were any sinister intentions. The reporter that wrote the article unfortunately made several factual errors (which contradicted our original press release), so we suspect that the article might have been taken down for that reason. See, for example:
    http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/Correction-Canada-Arctic-Ice-story-2195497.php

    Or compare these two versions:
    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/09/30/scitech/main20113980.shtml
    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/09/29/ap/canada/main20113595.shtml

    The story was written by Charmaine Noronha and distributed by AP, so is still very easy to find on the web.

    If you hear back from the Globe & Mail explaning why they took down the article we would be interested to know what they say.

    Regards,
    Luke


    Dr. Luke Copland
    Associate Professor / Professeur Agrégé,
    Department of Geography, University of Ottawa,
    Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5, Canada
    Tel: +1 613 562 5800 x2826
    Fax: +1 613 562 5145

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s