Climate Change Could Cause Rocky Mountains To Lose 90 Percent Of Its Glaciers By End Of Century

Wednesday, 8 April, 2015 - 08:12

The ice loss could cause significant problems for local ecosystems. New research suggests up to 70 percent of glacier ice in British Columbia and Alberta could disappear by the end of the 21st century.

This ice loss could cause significant problems for local ecosystems as well as water quality and power supplies, the University of British Columbia reported. The researchers noted the glaciers are all retreating at varying rates: the interior of the Rocky Mountains could lose as much as 90 percent of its glaciers, while the wetter coastal mountains in northwestern British Columbia will most likely lose only about half of their current ice mass.

"Most of our ice holdouts at the end of the century will be in the northwest corner of the province," said Garry Clarke, professor emeritus in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences. "Soon our mountains could look like those in Colorado or California and you don't see much ice in those landscapes."

The researchers used observational data, computer models, and climate simulations to determine the date of the over 17,000 glaciers present in British Columbia and Alberta. These glaciers play a role in hydroelectric power and also contribute to the water supply and local tourism.

These issues are worrying, but the researchers noted a climate change-related increase in precipitation could help balance out some of this ice loss. The largest impact from the melting ice is predicted to be seen in local freshwater ecosystems.

"These glaciers act as a thermostat for freshwater ecosystems," Clarke said. "Once the glaciers are gone, the streams will be a lot warmer and this will hugely change fresh water habitat. We could see some unpleasant surprises in terms of salmon productivity."

The findings were published in a recent edition of the journal Nature Geoscience. 

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