Juneau Icefield Glacier Study Warns of Irreversible Loss

Glaciers on a major Alaskan ice field are melting much faster than they were a decade ago, according to new research. Scientists from Newcastle University, UK, published their findings in Nature Communications. They studied the Juneau Icefield, located just north of Juneau, extending into British Columbia, which is the fifth-largest ice field in North America.

The study compared historical data and found significant changes in ice volume over different periods. From 1770 to 1979, the ice field lost between 0.65 to 1.01 cubic kilometers of glacier volume per year. From 1979 to 2010, this rate increased to between 3.08 and 3.72 cubic kilometers per year. Most alarmingly, from 2010 to 2020, the loss accelerated to 5.91 cubic kilometers per year.

Dr. Bethan Davies, the study leader, expressed deep concern over the rapid acceleration in glacier loss since the early 21st century. She pointed out that Alaskan ice fields, especially flat plateau ice fields like Juneau, are particularly vulnerable to rapid melt as temperatures rise. This widespread ice loss affects a large area.

The research also noted that 108 glaciers on the Juneau Icefield have disappeared completely since 1770. Recent mapping in 2019 showed that every glacier in the region has thinned. Dr. Davies warned that continued thinning and retreat of glaciers to lower, warmer areas will likely prevent them from regrowing in the future. This, she fears, could push the glaciers past a critical tipping point where recovery becomes impossible.

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