Climate Change Has Claimed A Major Glacier As Its Next Victim

Image: Getty Images

NASA has released satellite photos showing the world's thickest glacier, once thought to be impervious to global warming, has retreated.

The images, released by NASA Earth Observatory, show the Taku Glacier in Alaska, one of the largest in the world, had slowly started to retreat. Up until now, it was one of the only glaciers in the world that had resisted the effects of climate change maintaining its size.

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Satellite shots taken between August 20 2014 and August 9 2019 show subtle changes around the boundaries where the glacier and river meet.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory

Mauri Pelto, a researcher at Massachusetts's Nichols College, has been observing the glaciers for nearly 40 years, according to Earth Observatory's post, and once believed Taku Glacier might be one of only glaciers in Alaska to resist the effects of climate change.

"We thought the mass balance at Taku was so positive that it was going to be able to advance for the rest of the century," Pelto said.

"A lot of times, glaciers will stop advancing for quite a few years before retreats starts. I don't think most of us thought Taku was going to retreat so quickly.

"This makes the score climate change: 250 and alpine glaciers: 0."

Glacial retreat is measured by comparing snowfall against glacial melt throughout a single season. Net loss occurs when there hasn't been enough snowfall to match the glacier's melting through the warmer weather. Pelto said Taku, specifically, had remained constant between 2013 and 2017 but 2018 saw the first time the glacier recorded a retreat.

"To be able to have the transition take place so fast indicates that climate is overriding the natural cycle of advance and retreat that the glacier would normally be going through," Pelto said. "Taku Glacier is being exposed to melting it hadn’t before, which will drive new changes."

Those new changes mean the fate of glaciers as we know them remain hanging in the balance.

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