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Glaciers in Alaska Melting due to Climate Change

Disappearing Frontier: Alaska's Glaciers Retreating at Record Pace

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Alaska Glaciers
A sign marks where the end of the Exit glacier was in 2010 near tourists taking photos in the Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska. VOA

Alaska will soon close a year that is shaping up as its hottest on record, with glaciers in the “Frontier State” melting at record or near-record levels, pouring waters into rising global seas, scientists said after taking fall measurements.

Lemon Creek Glacier in Juneau, where records go back to the 1940s, had its second consecutive year of record mass loss, with 3 meters erased from the surface, U.S. Geological Survey glaciologist Louis Sass told Reuters.

Melt went all the way up to the summit, said Sass, one of the experts who travel to benchmark glaciers to take measurements in the fall.

“That’s a really bad sign for a glacier,” he said, noting that high-altitude melt means there is no accumulation of snow to compact into ice and help offset lower-elevation losses.

At Wolverine Glacier on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage, loss was the second highest in a record that goes back to the 1960s. Sass said it failed to match the record set in 2004 only because so much of the glacier had already melted.

Chugach National Forest Alaska
Chugach National Forest ranger Megan Parsley holds photos showing this summer’s ice loss at the face of Portage Glacier, Alaska, U.S. VOA

“The lower part’s completely gone now,” he said.

Drastic melting was also reported at Kenai Fjords National Park, which former President Barack Obama once visited to call attention to climate change. There, Bear Glacier, a popular tourist spot, retreated by nearly a kilometer in just 11 months, according to August measurements by the National Park Service.

“It’s almost like you popped it and it started to deflate,” said Nate Lewis, a Seward-based wilderness guide who takes travelers into the new lake that has formed at the foot of the shrinking glacier.

Even one of the few Alaska glaciers that had been advancing, Taku just southeast of the city of Juneau, is now losing ice at a fast clip.

Particularly ominous is the high altitude at which Taku is melting, said Mauri Pelto, who heads the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project. This year, the summer melt reached as high as 1,450 meters, 25 meters above the previous high-altitude record set just last year, he said.

Casting off chunks

Barack Obama Alaska
President Barack Obama views Bear Glacier on a boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward, Alaska. VOA

Now that it is retreating, Taku is expected to start casting off big ice chunks, increasing Alaska’s already significant contribution to rising sea levels, according to a study co-authored by Sass and Shad O’Neel, a glaciologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. The study is scheduled to be presented at the annual conference of the American Geologic Union next week in San Francisco.

Alaska recorded its warmest month ever in July and the trend has continued.

“Alaska is on pace to break their record for warmest year unless December is dramatically cooler than forecasted,” Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ International Arctic Research Center, said in a Dec. 1 tweet.

Alaska’s glaciers account for far less than 1 percent of the world’s land ice. But their melt contributes roughly 7 percent of the water that is raising the world’s sea levels, according a 2018 study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and co-authored by O’Neel.

There are also local impacts. Scientists say glacial melt affects salmon-spawning streams and harms marine fish and animal habitats. It is creating new lakes in the voids where ice used to be, and outburst floods from those lakes are happening more frequently, scientists say.

Also Read- Oxygen Loss from Oceans Dangerous for Aquatic Species: IUCN Report

Changes in the glaciers and the ecosystems they feed has been so fast that they are hard to track, said O’Neel at USGS, who measured the melt at Wolverine Glacier in September.

“Everything’s been pretty haywire lately.” (VOA)

Next Story

Here’s Why Automative Technology May Have Adverse Impact on Climate, Public Health

climate trade-off is much different on the regional scale, especially in areas with high vehicle densities

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Technology
While automative technology is credited with boosting fuel efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions, GDI engines produce more black carbon aerosols than traditional port fuel injection engines. Pixabay

New automotive technology that promises enhanced fuel efficiency may have a serious downside, including significant climate and public health impacts, a new study suggests.

The gasoline direct injection (GDI) engine is one of the most prominent technologies car manufacturers adopted to achieve the fuel economy and carbon dioxide emission goals established in 2012 by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

While this technology is credited with boosting fuel efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions, GDI engines produce more black carbon aerosols than traditional port fuel injection engines, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

“Even though emissions from gasoline vehicles constitute a small fraction of the black carbon in the atmosphere, the vehicle emissions are concentrated in regions with high population densities, which magnifies their effect,” said study researcher Rawad Saleh, Assistant Professor at University of Georgia in the US.

The market share of GDI-equipped vehicles increased from 2.3 per cent in model year 2008 to 51 per cent in model year 2018. The EPA projects 93 per cent of vehicles in the US will be equipped with GDI engines by 2025. According to the study, researchers predicts the increase in black carbon emissions from GDI-powered vehicles will fuel climate warming in urban areas of the US that significantly exceeds the cooling associated with a reduction in CO2.

In addition, they believe the shift will nearly double the premature mortality rate associated with vehicle emissions, from 855 deaths annually to 1,599. The researchers estimate the annual social cost of these premature deaths at $5.95 billion. The increase of black carbon is an unintended consequence of the shift to GDI-equipped vehicles that some scientists suspected was based on experimental data, according to the researcher.

Technology
New automotive technology that promises enhanced fuel efficiency may have a serious downside, including significant climate and public health impacts. Pixabay

“This study is the first to place these experimental findings in a complex modeling framework to investigate the trade-off between CO2 reduction and an increase in black carbon,” Slah said. While previous research has reported the shift to GDI engines will result in net benefits for the global climate, the researchers said that these benefits are rather small and can only be realized on timescales of decades.

Meanwhile, the negative impact of black carbon can be felt instantaneously, they added.

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“Our research shows the climate trade-off is much different on the regional scale, especially in areas with high vehicle densities. In these regions, the climate burden induced by the increase in black carbon dominates over the climate benefits of the reduction in CO2,” said Saleh. (IANS)