alaska’s melting glaciers could lead to major disturbances in climate

Es­ti­mated reading time is 2 min­utes.


People think that the At­lantic is where all the ac­tion is but we’re saying it’s the other way around.


In a new study pub­lished Oc­tober 1 in Sci­ence, re­searchers find that these pulses of rapid ice loss from what’s known as the western Cordilleran ice sheet con­tributed to, and per­haps trig­gered, the mas­sive calving of the Lau­ren­tide ice sheet into the North At­lantic Ocean thou­sands of years ago. That col­lapse of the Lau­ren­tide ice sheet, which at one point cov­ered large swaths of Canada and parts of the United States, ul­ti­mately led to major dis­tur­bances in the global climate.

The new find­ings cast doubt on the long-held as­sump­tion that hemispheric-scale changes in Earth’s cli­mate orig­i­nate in the North At­lantic. The study sug­gests that the melting of Alaska’s re­maining glac­iers into the North Pa­cific, though less ex­treme than purges of the past, could have far-ranging ef­fects on global ocean cir­cu­la­tion and the cli­mate in coming centuries.

‘People typ­i­cally think that the At­lantic is where all the ac­tion is, and every­thing else fol­lows,’ says Alan Mix, a pa­le­o­cli­ma­tol­o­gist at Oregon State Uni­ver­sity in Cor­vallis. ‘We’re saying it’s the other way around.’ The Cordilleran ice sheet fails ear­lier in the chain of re­ac­tion, ‘and then that signal is trans­mitted [from the Pa­cific] around the world like falling dominoes.’ ”

To read the en­tire ar­ticle, click here.

Long-standing as­sump­tions con­cerning the re­treat of the glac­iers in the last Ice Age and the mas­sive changes in the plan­et’s at­mos­phere that fol­lowed have been turned on their head. Click To Tweet

Major disturbances: photo of the Blackstone Glacier in Alaska

FEA­TURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is the Black­stone glacier be­hind Prince William Sound in the Bay of Alaska. The image was taken from aboard the JOIDES Res­o­lu­tion at the start of a 2013 ex­pe­di­tion to drill for sed­i­ment cores. (Photo: Carlos Al­varez Zarikian, IODP/TAMU.)


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