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Glaciers In North America Now Melting 4 Times Faster

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New research found that the glaciers in North America are losing more ice on average in the past decade compared to the early 2000s. From 2010 to 2018, glaciers were losing 12.3 gigatons every year.  ( J. Shea | University of Northern British Columbia )

North America is fast losing the glaciers that have existed in the region for thousands of years and it might be due to global warming. 

An international team of researchers found that the glaciers in the United States and Canada have lost elevation, which means that they are losing ice faster than snow can replenish them.

Their findings were published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters

Glaciers Are Melting

The researchers monitored the elevation of glaciers from California to the Yukon using high-resolution satellite imagery. They found that from 2000 to 2018, glaciers located in western North America lost 117 gigatons of ice. 

Moreover, they found that the rate of ice loss in the glaciers grew four times faster in the past decade. From 2000 to 2009, the researchers found that western North America lost an average of 2.9 gigatons of ice every year. From 2009 to 2018, the area was losing 12.3 gigatons every year. 

"Our work provides a detailed picture of the current health of glaciers and ice outside of Alaska than what we've ever had before," stated Brian Menounos, a professor at the University of Northern British Columbia and the first author of the study. "We determined that mass loss dramatically increased in the last 10 years in British Columbia's southern and central Coast mountains, due in part to the position of the jet stream being located south of the US-Canada border."

A jet stream refers to the winds in the atmosphere that can influence the climate, pushing air masses that affect weather pattern. In North America, the jet stream sways precipitation over the mountains, dumping snow that, over time, becomes ice. 

However, the jet stream in the Southern Coast Mountain in British Columbia shifted, causing warmer and drier weather. Whether the changes are caused by global warming is something that needs to be probed in future studies, said Menounos.  

What Will Happen When The Glaciers Are Gone

David Shean from the University of Washington and a co-author of the study said that scientists are not the only ones who have noticed the rapid melting of ice in the glaciers of North America. Frequent visitors have noted, too, that the glaciers are thinning and receding in national parks. 

If the glaciers disappear, the public will be in huge trouble. In the Pacific Northwest of the United States, the loss of glacier could reduce the flow of watersheds during the summer months. Sediments that fall from melting glaciers could also fall to the riverbeds, causing floodings during heavy rains. 

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