Retreat of mountain glaciers is a significant contributor to sea-level rise and a potential threat to human populations through impacts on water availability and regional hydrology. Like most of Earth’s mountain glaciers, those in western North America are experiencing rapid mass loss1,2. Projections of future large-scale mass change are based on surface mass balance models that are open to criticism, because they ignore or greatly simplify glacier physics. Here we use a high-resolution regional glaciation model, developed by coupling physics-based ice dynamics with a surface mass balance model, to project the fate of glaciers in western Canada. We use twenty-first-century climate scenarios from an ensemble of global climate models in our simulations; the results indicate that by 2100, the volume of glacier ice in western Canada will shrink by 70 ± 10% relative to 2005. According to our simulations, few glaciers will remain in the Interior and Rockies regions, but maritime glaciers, in particular those in northwestern British Columbia, will survive in a diminished state. We project the maximum rate of ice volume loss, corresponding to peak input of deglacial meltwater to streams and rivers, to occur around 2020–2040. Potential implications include impacts on aquatic ecosystems, agriculture, forestry, alpine tourism and water quality.
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This work was supported by the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, BC Hydro, the Columbia Basin Trust and the Universities of British Columbia and Northern British Columbia. It has benefited greatly from contributions of data, knowledge and effort by E. Berthier, T. Bolch, M. N. Demuth, G. M. Flato, S. J. Marshall, E. Miles, R. D. Moore, C. Reuten, E. Schiefer, C. G. Schoof, T. Stickford and R. Wheate. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups (listed in Supplementary Table 1) for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Clarke, G., Jarosch, A., Anslow, F. et al. Projected deglaciation of western Canada in the twenty-first century. Nature Geosci 8, 372–377 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2407
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