All of nearly 1,800 glaciers on an island in Canada's High Arctic have shrunk since the turn of the century, with three-quarters of them seeing a significant loss, according to a new study warning many could be on their last legs. Three small ice caps disappeared altogether between 1999 and 2015, according to satellite imagery and ground surveys, and others look like they're headed on that same path. "They all retreated. Nothing is growing," says University of Ottawa glaciologist Adrienne White, who spent seven field seasons on Ellesmere Island, off the northwest coast of Greenland. "There were some areas I couldn't recognize between years," she adds, per the Canadian Press, describing ice shelves transformed into "a city of icebergs." Ice shelves lost 42% of their size. Overall, the glaciers shrank by more than 650 square miles, or 6%, over the study period.
A previous study of glaciers in the area, excluding ice shelves, uncovered a loss of 360 square miles between 1959 and 2000, "hinting that the pace of loss may be increasing," reports the Guardian. It's no surprise why: Since 1948, the region's annual average temperature has increased by 3.6 degrees Celsius. Until 1995, the average temperature climbed about 0.12 degrees per decade. But from 1995 to 2016, it rose 0.78 degrees per decade, says White, whose research appears in the Journal of Glaciology. As it's too warm for yearlong snow, ice expansion is out of the question, leaving ecosystems at risk. "When these glaciers break away ... there's nothing holding back these ecosystems that have been growing and developing for thousands of years," White tells the Guardian. "They're gone before we even have the chance to study them." (Experts say this glacier should concern us all.)