Research points to more rapid loss of glacial ice mass, rising sea level

Study co-authored by Clark University geographer Prof. Gardner shows that glaciers in Canada’s Arctic will melt faster than ever and loss could be irreversible

Devon Island, Arctic Canada. (Photo/Alex Gardner)

Alex S. Gardner, an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Geography at Clark University, contributed to a recent study reporting that, under a moderate climate-warming scenario, glaciers in the Canada’s Arctic will contribute significantly to sea-level-rise over the next century and beyond.

The study titled, “Irreversible mass loss of Canadian Arctic Archipelago Glaciers” was published on March 7 in Geophysical Research Letters journal.

“Glaciers in the Canadian Arctic are out of equilibrium with present climate and they will continue to waste away in the absence of any additional atmospheric warming. This new study shows that if moderate warming predictions come to fruition, the glacier melt in this region will accelerate and contribute even more runoff to the world’s oceans, raising sea levels by multiple centimeters by the end of the century,” Gardner says.

The study was headed by Jan Lenaerts at the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht, The Netherlands. Lenaerts used a regional climate model that was specially adapted to simulate the behavior of glaciers in the Canadian Arctic. Gardner contributed to the validation of the model by comparing present-day model simulations to satellite and ground observations.

This research builds on Gardner’s earlier work that found that in recent years the Canadian Arctic glaciers have become the largest glacier contributors to sea level rise outside of Greenland and Antarctica. This earlier work was published in 2011 in the journal Nature.

Clark University Graduate School of Geography Assistant Professor Alex S. Gardner

In his research on the Earth's cryosphere, Gardner integrates remote sensing observations and Earth system modeling to study how glaciers and ice sheets respond to natural and human-induced conditions as well as how changes in the reflectivity of snow and ice modify the Earth's climate. He is now focused on assessing glacier wastage on a global scale and is a contributing author of the upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report.

The Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht has issued a press release and the BBC News has published an article titled “Canadian glaciers face ‘big losses’” that discusses the findings of their study.

Geophysical Research Letters has ranked among the top 10 of the most highly cited research publications on climate change over the past decade.

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