Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Massive Arctic ice cap is shrinking, study shows; Rate accelerating since 1985

Date:
April 13, 2010
Source:
Arctic Institute of North America
Summary:
Warmer summers are accelerating the rate at which the Devon Island ice cap is losing mass, according to new research. The study's authors say that although the extent and depth of the cap have been declining since measurements began in 1961, the trend has increased since 1985.

Location of Devon Island in Arctic Canada.
Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Close to 50 years of data show the Devon Island ice cap, one of the largest ice masses in the Canadian High Arctic, is thinning and shrinking.

A paper published in the March edition of Arctic, the journal of the University of Calgary's Arctic Institute of North America, reports that between 1961 and 1985, the ice cap grew in some years and shrank in others, resulting in an overall loss of mass. But that changed 1985 when scientists began to see a steady decline in ice volume and area each year.

"We've been seeing more mass loss since 1985," says Sarah Boon, lead author on the paper and a Geography Professor at the University of Lethbridge. The reason for the change? Warmer summers.

The High Arctic is essentially a desert with low rates of annual precipitation. There is little accumulation of snow in the winter and cool summers, with temperatures at or below freezing, serve to maintain levels. Any increase of snow and ice takes years.

This delicate equilibrium is easily upset. One warm summer can wipe out five years of growth. And though the accelerated melting trend began in 1985, the last decade has seen four years with unusually warm summers -- 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2008.

"What we see during these warm summers is the extent of the melt is greater," says Boon about the results of a five-year remote sensing study that ran between 2000 and 2004.

The white surfaces of snow and ice reflect heat -- a process known as the albedo effect. Retreating ice exposes dark soil and gravel, which absorb heat and increase the melt rate of ice along the periphery of the cap. But it's not only the edges of the cap that are losing ice. At lower altitudes the ice is thinning as well.

Changes to the Devon ice cap, which covers approximately 14,400 sq. km, could have multiple impacts on everything from ship traffic to sea level.

There has already been an increase in the number of icebergs calving off from outlet glaciers that flow into the ocean. Boon explains that melt water runs between the bottom of the glacier and the ground, creating a slippery cushion that allows the glacier to slide forward more rapidly than it would in colder conditions.

"There are a lot of things we need to consider. One is the iceberg calving and its implications for shipping. These things don't just go away, they float out into the ocean," says Boon. A second area of concern is the contribution of increased glacier melt to rising sea level.

The work of Boon and her colleagues demonstrates the importance of long-term research. Work on Devon Island began in 1961 with researchers from the Arctic Institute of North America, including long-time Arctic scientist Roy 'Fritz' Koerner, who was part of the current study until his death in 2008. This ongoing research, which is continuing thanks to federal International Polar year funding, has created a comprehensive dataset that contributes to the understanding of the complex play between the ice cap, the atmosphere and the ocean.

"We all know long-term studies are important but they are really hard to pay for."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Arctic Institute of North America. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Boon, S. Burgess; D.O. Koerner, R.M.; Sharp, M.J. Forty-seven years of research on the Devon Island ice cap, Arctic Canada. Arctic, 2010; 63 (1): 13-29 [link]

Cite This Page:

Arctic Institute of North America. "Massive Arctic ice cap is shrinking, study shows; Rate accelerating since 1985." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 April 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100412121014.htm>.
Arctic Institute of North America. (2010, April 13). Massive Arctic ice cap is shrinking, study shows; Rate accelerating since 1985. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100412121014.htm
Arctic Institute of North America. "Massive Arctic ice cap is shrinking, study shows; Rate accelerating since 1985." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100412121014.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

3BL Media (Oct. 20, 2014) Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-fuel Impala Video provided by 3BL
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) Suni, a rare northern white rhino at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, died Friday. This, as many media have pointed out, leaves people fearing extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Organic Fertilizer Helps Reforestation of Monarch Butterflies’ Winter Retreat

New Organic Fertilizer Helps Reforestation of Monarch Butterflies’ Winter Retreat

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 20, 2014) Using an organic fertiliser, a conservationist from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), leads an award-winning project to reforest the sanctuary of monarch butterflies. Sharon Reich reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins