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Canada's Arctic glaciers in trouble

March 7, 2013

The islands of Ellesmere and Devon off the coast of northern Canada could see 20 percent of their glaciers melt by the end of the 21st century, according to a report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. "We believe that the mass loss is irreversible in the foreseeable future," wrote the authors behind the report, led by Jan Lenaerts of the University of Utrecht. This projection is well is well within most U.N. scenarios.

Climate change warms the Arctic faster than the global average, and this factor is certainly having an effect. Though a total melt would take several centuries, the rate of melting could increase once the glaciers expose the ground beneath. The dark tundra would absorb more of the sun's heat than the white glaciers with snow on top. 

One small silver lining is that as the ice in the Arctic melts, more direct shipping routes will open up. It's a small benefit, but shorter routes do mean smaller carbon footprints. The transit across the Arctic would remain highly seasonal, but according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Plus, a direct route across the North Pole could be open by the middle of the century. 

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