On thinning ice: This summer time I acquired up near and own with glaciers

On thinning ice: This summer time I acquired up near and own with glaciers

This summer months I ventured into the land of ice at the top of the globe. I wandered between towering icebergs, and arrived face to confront with calving glaciers.

Canada has an enormous amount of money of glacial ice — the third most in the world soon after Greenland and Antarctica. A part of this is in the mountains of the west, but most is in the large Arctic. Around the decades I’ve had the privilege of going to these frozen features and witnessing first-hand the modifications that have taken area as a lot of get started to vanish in advance of our eyes.

My initially visit to a glacier was in 1973 at the Columbia Icefield between Banff and Jasper in Alberta. The icefield feeds 6 glaciers, together with the renowned Athabasca Glacier. It is the only glacier in Canada that you can drive up to and walk on. 

But every time I have returned in excess of the previous fifty percent century, I’ve been astounded at how a great deal the glacier has improved, not only by how substantially it is really retreated — more than a kilometre back again — but also how it has thinned, now sitting reduced in the valley. 

Tourists walk along a winding trail to get to a glacier hidden behind a large muddy hill, with mountains towering in the background.
Tourists hike up to the Athabasca glacier in Jasper National Park. This stroll receives about 10 metres longer every single yr. Given that the mid-1800s, the glacier has receded all-around 1.75 kilometres and lost about 60 for each cent of its ice mass. (Amanda Buckiewicz/CBC)

This previous summer months I experienced the opportunity to repeat a distinct vacation to see northern glaciers. It was again in 2008 that I would first sailed to Greenland and the Canadian Arctic aboard a cruise ship. 

This time, we started off in Kangerlussuaq on the south western coast of Greenland. Our route carried us up the rugged coast, then about to Baffin Island and Devon Island in Canada. The ship was geared up with 12-man or woman zodiacs that ferried us to shore to pay a visit to communities found at the mouths of rugged fjords. There are no trees that much north. The land is included in tundra, which is very colourful, but the vegetation would not grow a lot more than ankle significant. 

From a several kilometres offshore, on the lookout along the Greenland coastline, you can see a number of glaciers at once, dripping like candle wax among the coastal mountain peaks. I could see a change in the landscape considering that my initial visit in 2008. Many tongues of ice are farther up the valleys with huge spots of exposed rock at the bottom that used to be covered in ice. 

Mountain peaks between rivers of glacial ice descending to the sea.
Greenland is generally coated by a single massive ice sheet which steps 1,730,000 square kilometres, with smaller glaciers lining the periphery. As Bob went close to the coastline, he was equipped to place many glaciers at the moment, dripping like candle wax concerning the coastal mountain peaks. (Bob McDonald/CBC)

Some glaciers nonetheless do get to all the way down to the sea, in particular at Ilulissat, a Environment Heritage Internet site, wherever a speedy moving glacier calves icebergs the dimension of ten-storey structures that drift off into the North Atlantic. 

Approaching just one of these gleaming mountains of ice in a small boat is a nerve-wracking experience, specifically when you look at that most of it is down below the surface of the h2o. The zodiac drivers are instructed to remain a few moments the top of the iceberg absent since these monsters are constantly altering and can roll around or break into huge items without having warning.

Scattered throughout the area of the h2o are lesser chunks of ice known as growlers and bergy bits depending on their measurement. I managed to achieve more than and scoop up a small piece that I broke aside and handed close to to fellow passengers to taste. Popping a piece in my mouth, it crackled and popped as air bubbles that experienced been trapped in the ice when it froze ended up released. I realized that individuals bubbles had been probably tens of 1000’s of many years previous, so I was respiration air that could have handed via a wooly mammoth. It is these exact same bubbles that experts evaluate to trace the background of the Earth’s local climate.

Small boats float in front of an ice wall on an island
The zodiac boats allowed Bob and his fellow adventurers the possibility to get up close to glaciers like this just one on Croker Bay in Devon Island. (Bob McDonald)

Farther north, in Croker Bay on Canada’s Devon Island, we motored alongside the encounter of a two-kilometre-vast glacier that runs proper down to the sea. The jumbled wall of ice towered higher than our very small boats. Quickly, a loud cracking audio followed by a thunderous rumble rolled throughout the floor of the h2o. We turned to see a massive chunk of ice tumble off the ice wall, sink down, then emerge like a white whale, gradually settling. A new iceberg was born.

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In the long run, as glaciers retreat inland, this may possibly be a significantly rarer experience.

On the return trip across the wide expanse of Baffin Bay, about 100 kilometres from shore, we encountered a significant swath of floating sea ice. This was not glacial ice, but small floes of the sea ice that sorts on Arctic waters in winter. 

Wandering amid the ice floes in the zodiacs, we noticed standing on one of them the iconic image of the north, a polar bear, searching for seals. That ice is their looking floor, but you will find less of it than there employed to be. The Arctic’s everlasting sea ice is shrinking. It really is thinner than in the previous, and its minimum amount extent in the summer is just a tiny much more than 50 % of what it was in the early 1980s — a result of the Arctic warming much quicker than the relaxation of the planet — perhaps as considerably as four instances a lot quicker, in accordance to a single NASA scientist.

Polar bear on an ice floe
All through Bob McDonald’s cruise this summer time he noticed melting ice to start with-hand, as perfectly as arctic animals like the polar bear. (Stephen Rose Pictures)

As you will listen to on this week’s episode of Quirks & Quarks, experts are studying Canada’s glaciers, gleaning information and facts about the current and previous local climate, volcanic eruptions — even forest fires — tracing adjustments in excess of quite extensive time durations. Ice is an priceless archive of previous local weather information, which is why researchers are creating the hard work to review it, and even protect samples of it, in advance of it disappears. 

Greenland has presently missing virtually 4 trillion tonnes of ice due to the fact the 1990s, and the pattern is predicted to continue. The decline of glacial ice will have an impact on river flows all-around the world and add to sea-level increase. The decline of sea ice will change the temperature and biology of the Arctic Ocean.

Looking at for myself how a great deal ice has been lost in only 14 a long time, I speculate if we are between the past generations to see numerous of these wonderful frozen rivers.

WATCH | CBC meteorologist Christy Climenhaga explores the state of Canada’s glaciers.

https://www.youtube.com/observe?v=yv4UWAKpPi4

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