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Two Canadian Ice Caps Disappear Completely

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Two Canadian Ice Caps Disappear Completely
The Qamutik cargo ship on July 28, 2020 in Canada's Nunavut province, where two ice caps have disappeared completely. Fiona Paton / Flickr

Three years ago, scientists predicted it would happen. Now, new NASA satellite imagery confirms it's true: two ice caps in Canada's Nunavut province have disappeared completely, providing more visual evidence of the rapid warming happening near the poles, as CTV News in Canada reported.


According to Gizmodo, scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said last week that the St. Patrick Bay ice caps in the northeastern Ellesmere Island are nowhere to be seen on satellite imagery. The revelation that the ice caps have disappeared came sooner than scientists had expected.

"I can't say I was terribly surprised because we knew they were going, but it has happened really fast," Mark Serreze, director of NSIDC in Colorado, told CNN. Serreze co-authored a paper in 2017 estimating the ice caps would be gone within five years.

"When I first visited those ice caps, they seemed like such a permanent fixture of the landscape," said Serreze, in a statement. "To watch them die in less than 40 years just blows me away."

The very hot temperatures in the summer of 2015 reduced the longevity of the St. Patrick's Bay ice caps. "You could really see they got hit. But that heat has really just not stopped. It's just getting too warm," Serreze told CNN.

This year has been especially tough on the region. Recent months have been plagued by heatwaves and wildfires across the Arctic, as Gizmodo reported. The extreme heat likely contributed to the melting of the ice caps. Research has found that summers in the region haven't been this warm in 115,000 years.

According to CNN, the nearby glaciers that sit at a higher elevation have been shrinking significantly as well.

"I'll make another prediction that they're gone in a decade," Serreze said to CNN.

Similar to scientists who mourned a lost glacier in Iceland and a funeral in Switzerland held for a glacier, Serreze has felt the impact of losing these two ice caps.

"We've long known that as climate change takes hold, the effects would be especially pronounced in the Arctic," Serreze explained, as CTV News reported. "But the death of those two little caps that I once knew so well has made climate change very personal. All that's left are some photographs and a lot of memories."

Serreze first visited the ice caps in 1982 and has been studying them ever since, according to Gizmodo.

The melted ice caps were one half of a group of small ice caps on the Hazen Plateau, which formed during the Little Ice Age several centuries ago, according to the NSIDC.

Serreze told CNN that the small ice caps in the Arctic are clear indicators of the effects of the climate crisis.

"There's something called 'Arctic amplification,' which refers to the observation – not the theory – that the Arctic is warming up at a much faster rate than the rest of the globe, anywhere from two to four times faster," Serreze said.

Hotter heat waves and cold waves that are not as cold as they were in the past are contributing factors.

"We are starting to see all these things come together." Serreze told CNN, adding that the disappearance of the St. Patrick's Bay ice caps is "an exclamation point of what's happening in the Arctic."

Kevin Maillefer / Unsplash

By Lynne Peeples

Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.

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