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Largest-ever study of glacial lakes shows dramatic increases in volume since 1990: study


September 2, 2020
By Erin Guiltenane, Faculty of Science, University of Calgary

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Glaciers are retreating on a near-global scale. It takes only a short drive from Calgary up to the Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefields to see an example of the changing landscape apparent within our lifetime.

A new study led by Dr. Dan Shugar, PhD, with collaborators from governments and universities in Canada, the United States and United Kingdom, uses satellite data from NASA and Google Earth Engine to analyze all of the world’s glacial lakes. Published in Nature Climate Change, it is the largest-ever study of glacial lakes in terms of geographic scope.

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The study found that the volume of water in glacial lakes has increased by 50.8 cubic kilometres — about 50 per cent — since 1990. To put that number into context, the increase in glacial lake water over the last 30 years is equivalent to the volume of 20 million Olympic-size swimming pools.

Glacial lake volumes around the world currently total approximately 156 cubic kilometres of water. While some of the water from melting glaciers ends up flowing into the oceans, a substantial amount also feeds glacial lakes, which have been growing dramatically over the last several decades. Because of this, communities in areas downstream from these growing glacial lakes are increasingly at risk of destruction due to serious flooding.

The University of Calgary reports. | READ MORE