(The Canadian Press)

(The Canadian Press)

Collapse of Nunavut ice shelf ‘like losing a good friend:’ glaciologist

The ice shelf on the northwestern edge of Ellesmere Island has shrunk 43 per cent

A team of scientists placed research instruments into the Milne Ice Shelf in Nunavut last July, with plans to return to collect them this summer and study how the stability of the structure had changed.

The COVID-19 pandemic put that trip on hold. Then a week ago, the last remaining intact ice shelf in the Canadian arctic broke apart.

“And so we’ve lost not only the equipment, which is now drifting away in the Arctic Ocean, but also the information that it recorded over the time that it was out,” Carleton University glaciologist Derek Mueller said Friday.

The Canadian Ice Service said the ice shelf on the northwestern edge of Ellesmere Island has shrunk 43 per cent to 106 square kilometres from 187 square kilometres.

The calving event, captured by satellite, was not a surprise, Mueller said.

The ice shelf sits in a fjord sheltered by tall cliffs, so it had not melted as quickly as others.

While it managed to stay together until last week, Mueller said he had observed worsening cracks and rifts since he first started studying the area in 2004.

“It certainly has been changing — there’s no doubt. And, to me, it wasn’t really a question of if this breakup would happen. It was a question of when it would happen,” Mueller said.

“But still it hits home. It’s sort of like losing a good friend in a way.”

The ice shelf collapse also set adrift research into marine organisms, such as sponges and sea anemones, discovered in water pockets within the ice.

“We’re not sure what these consequences are for these animals. And certainly they won’t be where we were studying them, because that piece has drifted away from the shore,” Mueller said.

“If we find these kinds of animals again, I think it will be a stroke of luck.”

At the turn of the 20th century, 8,600 square kilometres of ice stretched along the northern coast of Ellesmere Island. By 2000, it was reduced to 1,000 and now it’s half that, Mueller said.

University of Ottawa glaciologist Luke Copland said in a news release that the temperature has been up to 5 C warmer this summer than the average between 1981 and 2010.

The region has been warming at two to three times the global rate, he added.

“This drastic decline in ice shelves is clearly related to climate change,” Copland said.

“The Milne and other ice shelves in Canada are simply not viable any longer and will disappear in the coming decades.”

Mueller said the ice shelf collapse should be a wake-up call.

“These ice shelves are well out of balance with the climate and I think their demise is inevitable,” he said.

“But, having said that, it’s not too late to make changes to the way we live and our carbon footprint.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Climate change

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Smithers Local Health Area reported just one new case of COVID-19 from Feb. 14-20. (BC CDC graphic)
Local weekly COVID infections drop to one

The Smithers Local Health Area (Houston to Witset) reported a single case between Feb. 14 and20

A health care worker prepares to test a Coastal GasLink field worker for COVID-19. (Coastal GasLink photo)
Coastal GasLink begins COVID screening of pipeline workers

Construction is once again ramping up following Northern Health approval of COVID management plan

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Smithers Weekly Police Blotter: Feb 12 – 19

Smithers RCMP open 83 new files including 15 property crime cases

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

(Black Press file photo)
Charges laid against two suspects in pre-Christmas home invasion

An 88-year-old woman was hospitalized after being bear-sprayed in the face Dec. 18, 2020

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)
Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Kara Sorensen, diagnosed with lung cancer in July, says it’s important for people to view her as healthy and vibrant, rather than sick. (Photo courtesy of Karen Sorensen)
B.C. woman must seek treatment overseas for inoperable lung cancer

Fundraising page launched on Karen Sorensen’s behalf, with a goal of $250,000

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Most Read