Torngat Mountains glaciers shrinking faster, says researcher

Glaciers in Labrador's Torngat Mountains are thousands of years old, but are now shrinking faster than ever before.
Researcher Robert Way says in the last decade, 11 glaciers have completely disappeared from the Torngat Mountains in Labrador. (Ryan Snoddon/CBC)

Glaciers in Labrador's Torngat Mountains are thousands of years old but now they're shrinking rapidly, according to new scientific research.

University of Ottawa researcher Robert Way has been studying the effects of climate change in the Torngat Mountains, and was one of the authors of an article recently published in the Journal of Geomorphology

He told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning the glaciers are declining because of climate change.

"You can see that summer temperatures in northern Labrador have increased by two or three degrees actually — and that's enough apparently to lead to these glaciers starting to decline and starting to shrink," he said.

"You can actually see that when you look back, even in old weather records from Moravian missionaries. These glaciers seem to be remnants of a time when there was a lot more ice in the Torngat Mountains, a reminder of what it used to be." 

Way said the Torngat Mountains are considered to be the southernmost in the Canadian Arctic, specifically the Eastern Canadian Arctic.

He added researchers can't exactly pinpoint how old those glaciers are, as it's difficult to date glacier ice. 

"They probably expanded much beyond where they exist today," he said. 

"There's only small glaciers now at this point, but we can see evidence from the landscape that they used to extend kilometres and kilometres in length, and we know that that's thousands and thousands of years."

Summers are warmer

Way said glaciers rely on cold temperatures all year-round, especially through the summer months. 

"Summer temperatures have certainly increased over the past couple of centuries. Glaciers in some ways ... you can think of them like a water tanker," he said.

They probably expanded much beyond where they exist today.- University of Ottawa researcher Robert Way

"They essentially store ice, and in doing so, when they melt, they release water. Obviously all the ecosystems which rely on that water depend on having glacier ice, essentially feeding them. When you take away glaciers, it's possible you don't have that same supply of water."

Way had a little advice for anyone wanting to see the huge ice masses.

"You get to see this ice-covered landscape — and it may not always be that way," he said.

"It's worth taking it in while you can."