(The Canadian Press)

Collapse of Nunavut ice shelf ‘like losing a good friend:’ glaciologist

The ice shelf on the northwestern edge of Ellesmere Island has shrunk 43 per cent

A team of scientists placed research instruments into the Milne Ice Shelf in Nunavut last July, with plans to return to collect them this summer and study how the stability of the structure had changed.

The COVID-19 pandemic put that trip on hold. Then a week ago, the last remaining intact ice shelf in the Canadian arctic broke apart.

“And so we’ve lost not only the equipment, which is now drifting away in the Arctic Ocean, but also the information that it recorded over the time that it was out,” Carleton University glaciologist Derek Mueller said Friday.

The Canadian Ice Service said the ice shelf on the northwestern edge of Ellesmere Island has shrunk 43 per cent to 106 square kilometres from 187 square kilometres.

The calving event, captured by satellite, was not a surprise, Mueller said.

The ice shelf sits in a fjord sheltered by tall cliffs, so it had not melted as quickly as others.

While it managed to stay together until last week, Mueller said he had observed worsening cracks and rifts since he first started studying the area in 2004.

“It certainly has been changing — there’s no doubt. And, to me, it wasn’t really a question of if this breakup would happen. It was a question of when it would happen,” Mueller said.

“But still it hits home. It’s sort of like losing a good friend in a way.”

The ice shelf collapse also set adrift research into marine organisms, such as sponges and sea anemones, discovered in water pockets within the ice.

“We’re not sure what these consequences are for these animals. And certainly they won’t be where we were studying them, because that piece has drifted away from the shore,” Mueller said.

“If we find these kinds of animals again, I think it will be a stroke of luck.”

At the turn of the 20th century, 8,600 square kilometres of ice stretched along the northern coast of Ellesmere Island. By 2000, it was reduced to 1,000 and now it’s half that, Mueller said.

University of Ottawa glaciologist Luke Copland said in a news release that the temperature has been up to 5 C warmer this summer than the average between 1981 and 2010.

The region has been warming at two to three times the global rate, he added.

“This drastic decline in ice shelves is clearly related to climate change,” Copland said.

“The Milne and other ice shelves in Canada are simply not viable any longer and will disappear in the coming decades.”

Mueller said the ice shelf collapse should be a wake-up call.

“These ice shelves are well out of balance with the climate and I think their demise is inevitable,” he said.

“But, having said that, it’s not too late to make changes to the way we live and our carbon footprint.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Climate change

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Age requirement for firefighters in Salmon Arm lowered

Three-month probation period replaced by longer recruit training

Shuswap dragon boat team honours Terry Fox in its own way

Close to $1,000 raised on the 40th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope

Theft-related charges in Salmon Arm deliver accused 140 days in jail

Man sentenced must also stay away from 10th Street SW and two local businesses

Okanagan College expands ‘Wellness Wednesdays’ to all students this fall

Wellness Wednesday workshops are designed to be psycho-educational

Fuel Good Day pumps up North Okanagan-Shuswap charities

Cheques for more than $2,500 handed over to three organizations in annual fundraiser

B.C. reports 96 new COVID-19 cases, one hospital outbreak

61 people in hospital as summer ends with election

Attorney General defends Kelowna Mountie involved in rough arrest

Tyler Russell filed a lawsuit against Const. Siggy Pietrzak in June of this year

‘Unprecedented’ coalition demands end to B.C. salmon farms

First Nations, commercial fishermen among group calling for action on Cohen recommendations

Earthquake off coast of Washington recorded at 4.1 magnitude

The quake was recorded at a depth of 10 kilometres

‘Perfect storm’ causes influx of black widows in the Okanagan

The region’s only venomous spider has come out in full force this year

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C.’s top doctor says she’s received abuse, death threats during COVID-19 response

Henry has become a national figure during her time leading B.C.’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Suspected human remains found in burned out vehicle on OKIB land

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP hand over investigation to Major Crimes

Kamloops RCMP search for armed robber of pizza restaurant

The incident unfolded on Monday evening at the Sahali Domino’s store

Most Read