The glaciers of western Canada are expected to drastically dwindle in just three generations, according to a study that scientists warn underscores the real consequences of climate change.
The glaciers of the Canadian Rockies — among the world’s most picturesque mountain ranges — are set to shrink by 75 percent in area and 70 percent in volume by 2100, compared with 2005, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience.
In two out of the three regions that were studied, the decline could be even more dramatic, with over 90 percent shrinkage predicted.
The loss will hit many sectors, from agriculture, forestry and tourism to ecosystems and water quality, the investigators warned.
Garry Clarke, a professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and the lead author of the study, said the disappearance of glaciers would be “a sad loss for those who are touched by the beauty of Canada’s mountain landscapes.”
“When the glaciers have gone, we lose the important services they provide — a buffer against hot, dry spells in late summer that keeps headwater streams flowing and cool and sustains cool-water aquatic species,” he added.
The team used a computer model that combined four well-known scenarios for global warming this century with data about three glacier-covered regions and dynamics of ice melt. Even at the lowest projected warming, most of the glaciers are essentially doomed, according to their forecast.
“Few glaciers will remain in the interior and Rockies regions, but maritime glaciers, in particular those in northwestern British Columbia, will survive in a diminished state,” the investigators said.
The study’s four warming scenarios, called representative concentration pathways (RCPs), are those used by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Under RCP 2.6, the mildest scenario, global average temperatures over this century are likely to rise by 0.3 to 1.7 degrees Celsius (0.5 to 3.1 degrees Fahrenheit).
Under RCP 8.5, the warmest scenario, which is based on current trends in carbon emissions, warming would be approximately 2.6 to 4.8 degrees C.
For the interior and Rockies regions, glaciers would lose more than 90 percent of their volume and area compared with 2005 in all scenarios except for RCP 2.6.
The coast region, which is more resistant, would see 75 percent area loss and 70 percent volume loss, with a margin of error of 10 percent.
The study’s findings come amid controversy over Canada’s response to the challenge of climate change. One of the country’s main exports is petroleum, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has voiced reluctance to sign on to international agreements aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
But without action, the negative effects of global warming could be stark.
By 2100, the IPCC says, mountain glacier melt could raise sea levels by 15 inches.
“Glaciers respond to climate, not weather, and their shrinkage signals that climate change is real and its consequences are serious,” said Clarke. “It is not too late for good behavior to be rewarded, but the longer we delay, the worse things get.”
Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse