Climate change disappears entire Canadian river

I have to admit when I read the headlines for this one I skipped over it.

“Climate change makes entire river disappear” sounded too sensationalized.

Maybe the river disappeared, but it must have been part of a long term process put in motion by other factors — right?


It is as crazy as it sounds.

In just four days, a finger of the Kaskawulsh Glacier in northern Canada that had been feeding the Slims River retreated at geologic-breakneck-speed — melting back so far that the water changed course entirely.

That’s according to scientists who documented the process in a study.

“For the last 300 years, Slims River flowed out to the Bering Sea, and the smaller Kaskawulsh River flowed to the Gulf of Alaska. What we found was the glacial lake that fed Slims River had actually changed its outlet,” Geoscientist Dan Shugar, lead author from the University of Washington Tacoma, said in a press release.

The river’s disappearance is an event that has redrawn the landscape.

They found out it was gone last year. A group of scientists arrived at the site of the Slims River in August 2016 and found that it’s 10-ft depths had been abruptly reduced to a trickle..

When they looked at satellite and other data they found that the process had taken just four days. From May 26-29, the glacier shrunk because of climate change to make a 15-mile long river disappear.

This is the first time the phenomenon — known as river piracy — has been documented happening in modern times, a scientist who worked on the study said in a statement.

“Geologists have seen river piracy, but nobody to our knowledge has documented it happening in our lifetimes,” Shugar said.

The researchers said the river’s disappearance highlights the changes happening in glaciers because of global warming.

While most of the press about glaciers melting is tied into rising seas, this serves as an example of a less expected effect of glacial retreat, the scientists said.

John Clague at Canada’s Simon Fraser University, who also worked on the study, said:

“I always point out to climate-change skeptics that Earth’s glaciers are becoming markedly smaller, and that can only happen in a warming climate.”


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