B.C. glacier melted at unprecedented rate this summer

Melting glacier

Castle Creek is a majestic glacier, nestled high in the Cariboo Mountains just east of Prince George, B.C. It’s been melting steadily for the past decade, at a rate of 15 metres a year. But this past summer, Castle Creek melted at two and a half times that pace—an unprecedented 9 metres, which is equal to 30 feet, in just a couple of months.

Brian Menounous, a geography professor and glacier researcher at the University of Northern British Columbia has been studying the glacier’s retreat for the past decade. Each year, Menounos and a group of researchers trek up to the glacier and use seven-metre poles to measure the thickness of the ice, which diminishes every year.

“On a hot sunny day, you can see the surface going down some 10 centimetres,” glacier researcher Matt Beedle told the CBC. “It’s not building back up in the winter. That’s the problem. At first, it’s just exciting to see this brand-new landscape that wasn’t here before it was exposed. But then it’s shocking. When we started coming here, it was so much larger than it is today.”

Glaciers serve as a sensitive indicator of climate, and are also one of Western  Canada’s most important freshwater resources.

Scientists posit that The Blob is responsible—not the 1950s horror science fiction B-movie, but a giant pocket of warm water in the Pacific Ocean, around 3 degrees warmer than the surrounding water. The heat energy is carried by wind onto land, and the higher temperature air helps accelerate the melting of the glacier.

Menounos suggests that much of Western Canada’s 25,000 square kilometres of ice fields will not last into the next century if melting continues at its current rate.

“If you want a window into the future if you will—sort of a sad window—then this particular summer, at least in the southern portion of B.C., is a good example,” the CBC reported.