Luke Copland, an associate professor in the University of Ottawa’s geography department, and Derek Mueller, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s geography and environmental studies department, co-authored research reporting the disintegration of both the Serson Ice Shelf and the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf.
According to a September 29 article by Charmaine Noronha of the Associated Press (AP), the duo reports that the Serson Ice Shelf shrank from 79.15 square miles to a pair of remnant sections three years ago, and shrank further this summer, with one going from 16 square miles to 9.65 and the other decreasing from 13.51 square miles to just two square miles.
Similarly, the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf split into a pair of “drifting ice masses” during the summer, according to Noronha. While it measured 131.7 square miles last year, the two fragments now measured in at 87.65 square miles and 28.75 square miles.
“This is our coastline changing,” Mueller said in a statement earlier in the week. “These unique and massive geographical features that we consider to be part of the map of Canada are disappearing and they won’t come back.”
“The ice shelves were formed and sustained in a different climate than what we have now,” he added. “As they disappear, it implies we are returning to conditions unseen in the Arctic for thousands of years.”
The AP reports that Copland used a combination of satellite imagery and five years worth of field work in his research, and claims that since the end of July, the Canadian Arctic ice shelf has lost pieces roughly equal to “one and a half times the size of Manhattan Island.”
Mueller added that the total summertime loss could be up to three billion tons.
The findings have not yet been peer reviewed, reports Noronha, “but a number of scientists contacted by The Associated Press reviewed the findings, agreeing the loss in volume of ice shelves is significant.”
From 1906 through 1982, there has been an estimated 90% reduction in the extent of ice shelves among the coastline, Noronha says, citing statistics from Laval University researchers. Serson and Ward Hunt were two of the six smaller ice sheets to have formed from what was known as the Ellesmere Island Ice Sheet. One of the six all but disappeared in 2005, and another in 2008, the AP said.