North

Cracks in Arctic ice shelves even worse than feared: scientist

Researchers who teamed up with Canadian Rangers on a patrol around Ellesmere Island this month say they've found cracks in ice shelves are worse than they originally thought.

Polar ice researchers who teamed up with Canadian Rangers on a patrol around Ellesmere Island this month say they've found that cracks in ice shelves are worse than they originally thought.

The High Arctic ice shelves could all be fragmented in a matter of years, said Derek Mueller, a polar scientist and research fellow at Trent University, who returned this week from the two-week joint sovereignty patrol and research expedition known as Operation Nunalivut.

Mueller said he and the other scientists on the trip found that the permanent ice shelves are breaking off or cracking at an alarming rate, due in part to climate change and global warming.

The scientists found cracks up to 12 metres wide in some ice shelves.

They discovered an 18-kilometre-long crack on the Ward Hunt ice shelf, located on the north coast of Ellesmere Island, Mueller said.

It was one of the High Arctic's largest ice shelves before it was split by a large central crack between 2000 and 2002.

"I hope that it raises an awareness amongst all Canadians that our map is essentially changing. We have the loss of these ice shelves," Mueller told CBC News in an interview.

"Looking at the map that we have, it's dated from the 1950s. It's completely out of date now that these ice shelves are breaking away."

Mueller said some ice shelves have so many cracks that the Rangers who were helping them could not count them all.

"The ice shelves being the permanent ice that's up to 3,000 or 4,000 years old along that coastline, it's really thick ice," he said.

"The pack ice is also receding as well, so we have all of these indicators of climate change that are happening at once."

Mueller said the Rangers — the military reservists whose primary role on Operation Nunalivut was to conduct a Canadian sovereignty patrol around the island — helped him and the other scientists map ice shelves, measure ice melt rates and measure ice thickness.

Mueller said he hopes his findings will highlight the impact of global warming and how it is affecting the permanent Arctic ice shelves. He hopes to return north in about two years' time for further ice studies, he said.