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EDITORIAL: Still melting away

This July 10, 2008 file photo made with a fisheye lens shows ice floes in Baffin Bay above the Arctic Circle, seen from the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent.
This 2008 file photo shows ice floes above the Arctic Circle, seen from the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent. Dramatic changes continue in the Canadian Arctic. — File Photo

It’s been around, scientists estimate, for 4,000 years — the last intact ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic.

That means it existed as parts of Europe went through the Bronze Age, a time when the human population was small enough, and dispersed enough, to have far fewer impacts on the world we live in that we do now.

That 4,000-year record changed at the end of July, when 40 per cent of the Milne Ice Shelf simply broke off and began drifting away. In big pieces, to be sure: one new iceberg alone is 55 square kilometres, and 11.5 kilometres long. It’s also anywhere from 70 to 80 metres thick.



It’s just a continuation of dramatic changes in the Canadian Arctic as a result of the climate crisis — a crisis that, despite plenty of discussion and handwringing, it seems we’re willing to actually do little about.

Here’s a snippet from Carleton University, where scientists had been studying the Milne Ice Shelf: “The Milne Ice Shelf has been the most recent of Canada’s ice shelves to break-up. At the start of the 20th century, there was a single 8,600-square-kilometre ice shelf stretching along the northern coast of Ellesmere Island. By 2000, it had divided into six large ice shelves and several minor ones occupying a total area of 1,050 square kilometres. Ellesmere Island saw major ice shelf break-up events in 2003, 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2012. The Milne Ice Shelf was considered to be one of the least vulnerable to break-up since it is well-protected in Milne Fjord, but it has sustained many fractures over the past 12 years.”

So, to recap, at the beginning of the 20th century, 8,600 square kilometres. By 2000, 1,050 square kilometres. Now, the Milne Ice Shelf alone has gone from 187 square kilometres to 106.


It’s just a continuation of dramatic changes in the Canadian Arctic as a result of the climate crisis — a crisis that, despite plenty of discussion and handwringing, it seems we’re willing to actually do little about.


And it’s not only ice shelves; two polar ice caps in the Canadian Arctic — on the Hazen Plateau in St. Patrick’s Bay on Ellesmere Island— have already disappeared this summer during record heat. Temperatures in the Canadian Arctic are five degrees C above average temperatures recorded over the last 30 years.

“When I first visited those ice caps, they seemed like such a permanent fixture of the landscape,” Mark Serreze, director of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center and a geographer at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said in a news release on July 30 — mere days before the Milne collapse was discovered. “To watch them die in less than 40 years just blows me away.”

Other scientists and researchers in Arctic are saying the same things: that changes that used to be measured in millennia are now occurring within those same scientists’ lifespans.

Oh yes, we’ve done so well with the world that’s in our care.

Wake up. We’re running out of time

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