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10th May 2021
...continued from PART 1

“The toe is literally falling apart,” says Menounos. “If you could stand on the toe of the Klinaklini Glacier for an entire year, you’d see on average, between 12 to 15 m of surface lowering per year.”

The more a glacier melts and destabilizes, the worse its future prognosis for survival becomes. As ice disappears, more surrounding dark rock is exposed, attracting heat from the sun that causes more melting. And the more elevation the glacier loses, the lower the surface elevation becomes — exposing the remaining ice to ever lower snowfall and warmer temperatures.

Eventually the elevation of a melting glacier will drop below the snowline, at which point it cannot accumulate any more snow, at which point it is doomed.

Klinaklini is so huge it will exist in some form for another half century, long after many of our smaller glaciers have disappeared. Eventually, however, Menounos expects the demise of even the Klinaklini Glacier to play out like this: as the climate continues to warm, the snow accumulation zone will shrink, and the octopus-like, coalescing arms of the glacier will separate from the main body, turning into small individual glaciers, which will continue to shrink away.

“If you project that forward to a point where there’s no ice left, you will have a completely deglaciated landscape. It can still receive and collect winter snow, but that snow will melt earlier, and you will no longer have that repository or that reservoir that can [supply] headwater rivers with cool water once the seasonal snow has been depleted.”

The loss of coastal mountain glaciers like the Klinaklini will put us into uncharted territory, and no one knows for sure how the ecosystem will respond and adapt. Not only will the coast’s late summer emergency cooling system be disrupted, but the nutrients that flow from the glacier melt and nourish the ocean, most importantly iron, will come to an end.

A special thanks to Brian Menounos and everyone at the Hakai Institute. This series is written by Christopher Pollon. Design and development by Andrew Munroe. Artwork and additional development by David Marino.