Glaciers exist all over the world but they are not all the same. There is a strong difference between the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland that exist rarely experience temperatures above freezing and completely submerge the landscape on which they rest, and glaciers in mountainous regions that terminate on land at an elevation where summer temperatures are sufficient to melt all the ice the glacier flow can supply. Existing between these types, in climatic terms, are “near-polar” glacier systems. These are significant because they share many of the complexities of both of their counterparts, and as such pose particular difficulties for researchers attempting to understand their current behaviour and predict their future evolution. In particular, this type of glacier suffers considerable surface melt and so is highly sensitive to atmospheric temperatures, but since they contains a high proportion of marine-terminating glaciers, are also sensitive to changes in ocean conditions.
These “near-polar” systems exist in many areas; Patagonia, Alaska, Svalbard, the Antarctic Peninsula, and in the Archipelago of islands that around Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic. In collaboration with a group led by scientists from the University of Alberta, ice2sea has undertaken to measure the loss of ice from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago over recent years. They found that loss from this area was in line with other similar near-polar systems such as Alaska and the Antarctic Peninsula, but that a substantial increase in ice loss occurred around 2006-07, which can be attributed to high summer temperatures in the following years. This demonstrates an unusually high sensitivity to temperature and that in the period 2007-09 the Canadian Arctic Archipelago was the largest glacial contributor to sea-level rise outside of Antarctica and Greenland.
Publication: Gardner, A. S., G. Moholdt, B. Wouters, G. J. Wolken, D. O. Burgess, M. J. Sharp, J. G. Cogley, C. Braun, and C. Labine (2011), Sharply increased mass loss from glaciers and ice caps in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Nature, 473, 357-360.