July 24, 2024

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Study: Alaska Ice Field Glaciers Melting at ‘Extremely Alarming’ Rate

Study: Alaska Ice Field Glaciers Melting at ‘Extremely Alarming’ Rate

Glaciers are facing a “tipping point of irreversible decline,” researchers say.

Glaciers in a large ice field in Alaska are melting at a rate twice as fast as recorded more than a decade ago, and researchers say the rate of ice loss is “extremely alarming.”

The research was conducted by scientists from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom and published in Nature Communications Tuesday, it was revealed how the ice volume in the Juneau Ice Field has decreased dramatically since 2010 compared to previous decades.

The Juneau Ice Field is located 2,000 feet north of Juneau and straddles the border with British Columbia and is the fifth largest ice field in North America.

The researchers looked at historical data to identify three periods when ice extent changed dramatically.

According to the study, the volume of ice loss in the Juneau Ice Field remained constant from 1770 to 1979, losing between 0.65 and 1.01 cubic kilometers per year. In the second period, from 1979 to 2010, the volume of ice loss increased to 3.08 and 3.72 cubic kilometers per year.

What has the researchers concerned is that the Juneau Glacier’s volume loss between 2010 and 2020 accelerated to 5.91 cubic kilometers, according to the study.

“It is incredibly alarming that our research has found a rapid acceleration since the early 21st century in the rate of glacier loss on the Juneau Ice Field,” said study leader Dr. Bethan Davies, a lecturer at Newcastle University, in the journal Nature on Tuesday.

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Davies explained why the region is becoming less vulnerable to accelerated glacial melt under climate change.

“Alaska’s ice fields — which are mostly flat ice fields on plateaus — are particularly vulnerable to accelerated melting as the climate warms because ice loss occurs across the entire surface, meaning a much larger area is affected,” Davis said.

The study found that since 1770, 108 glaciers in the Juneau Ice Field have completely disappeared, and maps in 2019 showed that all glaciers in the region are thinning.

“As glaciers on the Juneau Plateau continue to melt and the ice retreats to lower levels and warmer air, the feedback processes this triggers will likely prevent glaciers from growing again in the future,” Davis said, adding that this could push glaciers “beyond the tipping point into irreversible stagnation.”