Massive ice field will lose more than 60% of its ice by 2099.
The Juneau Icefield is the fifth largest ice field in the Western Hemisphere which extends through an area of 1500 square miles and covers southeast Alaska and much of British Colombia. The massive icefield is a popular tourist attraction in Alaska, visited by 450,000 people last year.
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Now, a new study predicts that more than a half of the vast Juneau Icefield could be gone by the end of the century if the climate warming trend continues the same way.
"By the end of this century, people will most likely not be able to see the Mendenhall Glacier anymore from the visitor's center.” Regine Hock, a glaciologist from University of Alaska and one of the authors of the study said.
Mendenhall Glacier is one of the 140 glaciers that make up the ice field. If global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the ice field will lose almost 60% of its ice by 2099, according to calculations.
However, a climate turn around could save the Juneau ice field. If temperatures in future remain the same as they are today, the ice field will lose mass only slightly and then stabalize. And this actually happened in the past when one of its glaciers called Taku Glacier grew and gained more ice from 1946 to 1985 but the trend reversed in the next decade or so when it lost mass at a rate twice that of previous decade’s growth.
This latest study provides the first detailed analysis of entire Juneau Icefield but modeling the future melt of ice field was challenging because of the lack of weather data. Therefore, researchers used physical characteristics such as sunlight, clouds and their movement and precipitation to develop a forecasting model and combined it with a previous glacier model which had been used to make predictions for the Greenland Ice Sheet.
“The mountains would be there, but no ice.” Hock said.
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Despite the gloomy outcome predicted by the study, Juneau Icefield is not in as bad shape as the other ice fields. That is because the high altitude cold weather of mountains could cause snowfall to start glacier forming process again and help maintain its current shape.