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    Global climate change

    Retreat of Iconic Glacier expected to Stop in 2020

    11/26/2012, 2:54:21 PM

    Using thousands of outputs from a computer model and comparing that to actual data, scientists from the University of Colorado at Boulder predict that the famous Columbia Glacier in Alaska, which has been calving about 2 cubic miles of icebergs into the ocean each year due to the warming climate will reach a new stable position in about 8 years.

    Columbia Glacier. Image courtesy of the NSIDC.

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    The Columbia Glacier is a large (425 square miles), multi-branched glacier in south-central Alaska that flows mostly south out of the Chugach Mountains to its tidewater terminus in Prince William Sound, according to the University of Colorado at Boulder story.

    The Columbia Glacier was first documented in 1794 when it appeared to be stable with a length of 41 miles. During the 1980s it began a rapid retreat and by 1995 it was only about 36 miles long. By late 2000 it was about 34 miles long. (from the University of Colorado)

    The results of this study were a surprise to scientists. What they found was that a single glacier's contribution to sea level rise can "turn on" and "turn off" quite rapidly, over a couple of years, with the precise timing of the life cycle being difficult to forecast.

    The research team determined that around 2020 the terminus of the Columbia Glacier will retreat into water that is sufficiently shallow to provide a stable position (no significant retreat or advance) through 2100 by slowing the rate of iceberg production. The future for the Columbia Glacier, however, looks bleak. "I think the hope was that once we saw climate change happening, we could act to prevent some irreversible consequences," said William Colgan of the CU-Boulder headquartered Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, "but now we are only about eight years out from this retreat finishing -- it is really sad. There is virtually no chance of the Columbia Glacier recovering its pre-retreat dimensions on human time-scales." (via University of Colorado Boulder)

    This study is published in The Cryosphere, an open access publication of the European Geophysical Union.

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    Global climate change