Is It Too Late?

( – The rate at which a significant icefield in Alaska is melting has accelerated and might soon reach a critical threshold, earlier than previously predicted, according to recent research findings.

A new study, released in the Nature Communications journal on Tuesday, has revealed a significant increase in the melting of glaciers in the Juneau Icefield, spanning Alaska and British Columbia, particularly since 2010.

From 2015 to 2019, the rate of glacier shrinkage across the icefield was fivefold higher than the rates observed from 1948 to 1979, the study’s researchers noted.

The total loss of ice from the entire Juneau field from 1770 to 2020 was approximately one-quarter of its original volume, according to the study’s findings.

“It’s incredibly worrying that our research found a rapid acceleration since the early 21st century in the rate of glacier loss across the Juneau icefield,” Bethan Davies, the study’s lead author and a senior lecturer at Newcastle University in England, stated.

Davies explained that the flat, expansive nature of most Alaskan icefields makes them especially prone to accelerated melting as global temperatures rise.

These types of icefields cannot easily retreat to higher elevations to regain balance, she added.

Instead, the ice is displaced to lower elevations, where warmer temperatures and related feedback processes “prevent future glacier regrowth, potentially pushing glaciers beyond a tipping point into irreversible recession,” Davies remarked.

To formulate their conclusions, Davies and her team, comprising academics from the U.K., U.S., and Europe, delineated three distinct periods between 1770 and the present day during which the icefield volumes experienced noticeable shifts.

They enhanced their analysis of these periods through the examination of historical glacier inventories, aerial photos, and satellite images, along with conducting field studies and mapping the region’s geological structures.

The researchers observed that the rate of glacier loss was relatively stable from 1770 to 1979, with a melting rate of about 0.65 to 1.01 square kilometers annually.

However, this rate increased to between 3.08 and 3.72 square kilometers per year from 1979 to 2010 and then surged to 5.91 square kilometers in the decade that followed.

They also detected an increase in glacier fragmentation, a process where the lower and upper parts of these ice masses separate.

Every glacier in the Juneau Icefield that was studied had receded from its 1770 position, and 108 of them had completely vanished.

The researchers expressed significant concern over their findings, especially since Alaska is home to some of the world’s largest plateau icefields. The melting of these vast icefields could significantly affect sea level rise, they cautioned.

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