Glaciers in both the North and South Poles are melting at an ‘unprecedented’ rate as global warming tightens its grip on the planet’s coldest regions.
An enormous iceberg about five times the size of Manhattan broke off Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier this week only a month after a crack first appeared.
On the other side of the planet, glaciers in Canada’s Yukon territory are retreating at an alarming pace, triggering dust storms and drastic shifts to local water sources.
The studies highlight the rising instability of the planet’s poles as the effects of global climate change take their toll.
Two teams working in the North and South Poles have reported startling glacier shrinkage this week.
The first investigated ice loss at the Yukon’s 43-mile-long (70 km) Kaskawulsh glacier – which is under threat from both global warming and diminishing snow coverage.
Radar scans performed by the team showed the glacier is thinning by more than one and a half feet (0.5m) each year.
The researchers, from Canada’s Simon Fraser University, warned the glacier cannot compensate for the volume of ice it is losing.
The Yukon’s glacial melt is already causing problems for local fishermen, where shoreline retreat is blocking access to traditional fishing spots.
‘What the glaciers and ice sheets do makes a big difference to global sea levels, and makes a big difference to local environments where they form a water source,’ glaciologist Dr Gwenn Flowers, lead author of the study, told the CBC.
Along the Alaska Highway, one of the great northern routes from Yukon to Alaska, dust storms born from dried lake beds are wreaking havoc with drivers.
The riverbed is normally covered in water, but glacial retreat has left it almost completely drained.
Parks Canada is monitoring the ‘unprecedented’ changes.
‘We’re seeing a 20 per cent difference in area coverage of the glaciers in Kluane National Park and Reserve and the rest of the UNESCO World Heritage site [over a 60-year period],’ says Diane Wilson, a field unit superintendent at Parks Canada.
‘We’ve never seen that. It’s outside the scope of normal.’
Dramatic changes to the Yukon glaciers are an early warning of what climate change could mean for the rest of the planet, Dr Flowers said.
The rate of warming in the north is double that of the average global temperature increase, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Glacial melting has also hit the South Pole this week, where researchers reported the loss of an enormous chunk of ice from Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier.
A huge crack was spotted in the glacier last month by Sentinel-1, a satellite run by the European Space Agency.
Just weeks later a 115 square mile (300 sq km) block of ice that calved off the glacier’s ice shelf.
It splintered into smaller pieces within 24 hours, with the largest shard measuring 87 square miles (226 square km) before it later broke apart even more.
Dr Stef Lhermitte, a scientist at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, said he was ‘quite surprised’ the chunk broke off so quickly.
The quick split may be the result of a rapid retreat by the ice sheet that has seen it shift 3.1 miles (5 km) inland since 2015.
Pine Island Glacier is calving more glaciers than it used to, spawning four since 2013 – an alarming jump from its average rate of one every six years.
Warm waters triggered by unusual wind patterns and climate change are believed to be responsible.
‘The retreat we see now is outside of what we have observed [in modern times],’ Dr Lhermitte told Live Science.