One of the most popular glaciers in North America is losing more than 5 meters of ice every year -- a rate that could make it disappear within a generation, according to a Parks Canada manager.
The Athabasca Glacier is the largest of six ice sheets that make up part of the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park.
Despite receiving nearly 7 meters of annual snowfall, the glacier has been diminishing for the past 150 years.
"It's astonishing," John Wilmshurst, Jasper National Park's resource conservation manager, said in an interview with the Canadian Press.
"Every year we drive stakes 5 meters deep into the glacier in the fall. We have to return and redrill them in midsummer because a lot of those stakes on the Athabasca Glacier, the one that a lot of people go visit, will be lying flat on the ice at that time."
In fact, markers dating back to 1890 reveal the ice sheet has already retreated 1.5 kilometers.
Bob Sandford, chairman of the Canadian Partnership Initiative of the U.N. Water for Life Decade, said it's "mind-boggling" because the glacier is also becoming more shallow.
"I first wrote a tourist book on the Columbia Icefields in 1994, and it was generally held that it was somewhere around 325 square kilometers. That ice field now is calculated to be about 220 square kilometers," he said.
"Even though this year we will have had a fairly substantial snow year, what we're finding is that, even with substantial snow years, the summers are warm enough and the fall is prolonged enough that all of that snow goes and we're still losing 5 meters," Sandford said.
"That gives you an indication of how rapidly things are changing" (Bill Graveland, Canadian Press/Guelph [Ontario] Mercury, May 25).
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