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

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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.’ ”

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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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