Western Canada’s glaciers are shrinking rapidly and could be gone entirely by the end of the 21st century, climate change experts are warning.
A study published this week in the journal Nature Geosciences predicted that the glaciers in Western Canada could be 70 percent gone in the next 90 years, a bleak warning of the global warming that could be on the way.
“What [glaciers] are telling us is that the climate is changing. The glaciers don’t respond to weather, so they don’t get confused about whether it was a cold winter or a hot summer,” Gary Clarke, lead author of the study and professor emeritus at University of British Columbia (UBC) told ThinkProgress. “When the glaciers are wasting away, we know that the climate isn’t helpful to them.”
The disappearing glaciers in Western Canada will have wide-ranging impact, the study noted. Authors wrote that the shrinking glaciers would affect everything from energy to tourism.
The report noted,
“There are over 17,000 glaciers in B.C. and Alberta and they play an important role in energy production through hydroelectric power. The glaciers also contribute to the water supply, agriculture and tourism. Clarke says while these issues are a concern, increased precipitation due to climate change could help compensate for glacier loss. The greatest impact, he suspects, will be on freshwater ecosystems. During the late summer, glacier melt provides cool, plentiful water to many of the region’s headwaters.”
“These glaciers act as a thermostat for freshwater ecosystems,” said Clarke. “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 Western Canada glacier study comes amid a growing debate on climate change in Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper cut funding for conservation research and changed close to two dozen environmental laws. Harper also pulled Canada from the emission-cutting pledge Kyoto Protocol.
There are other battles regarding climate change. In February, activists protested at the Toronto Stock Exchange, speaking out against developing tar sands in Alberta.
Clarke said he was “not impressed” with Canada’s action on climate change.
But government officials say they are committed to protecting the environment, pointing to investments to reduce greenhouse gases.
“Our Government is taking action to protect the environment by expanding the network of national parks, conserving Canada’s natural heritage through our National Conservation Plan and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Shane Buckingham, spokesperson for Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, said in a statement to ABC News.
The full study on shrinking glaciers in Western Canada can be found here.
[Image via ThinkProgress]