Newswise — A new system of measuring water melt shows that the Bering Glacier--the largest glacier in North America--is melting at double the rate that scientists thought. The glacier is releasing approximately 30 cubic kilometers of water a year, more than twice the amount of water in the entire Colorado River, said Robert Shuchman, co-director of the Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI).
"This could potentially change the circulation of coastal currents in the Gulf of Alaska," Shuchman said. Those currents are key factors in tempering climate, redistributing nutrients in the water and providing adequate food for the salmon and marine animals, he explained.
As glaciers melt, sea levels rise, and "sea level rise affects everyone," Shuchman added. "If it continues to rise at this rate, parts of the state of Florida could be under water at the turn of the next century."
The MTRI team, working with U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) scientists, designed the sensor that enabled BLM to accurately measure and analyze the melting of this Alaskan glacier. Shuchman and his team, along with BLM and USGS, have been studying the glacier for the past decade with an interdisciplinary team of geologists, oceanographers, botanists, and marine mammal, bird and fish experts.
"Our glacier observations are 10 times better and 10 times less costly than data collected the old way," Shuchman said. Before MTRI developed its autonomous sensor to collect data as it occurs, scientists had to make dangerous and difficult treks to remote regions to measure glacial melting.