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Executive Summary for April 21st

We review the latest Arctic news, including the disappearance of a Yukon River, the opening of a new Russian military base in the High North, and new signs that Greenland’s massive Petermann Glacier is slowly falling apart.

Published on Apr. 21, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Retreating Glacier Reroutes Yukon River

The dramatic disappearance of a river that once flowed from one of the Canada’s biggest glaciers is being described by researchers as a case of “river piracy.” That’s when one river diverts the flow of another, as happened with Yukon’s Kaskawulsh Glacier over the span of just a few months in 2016.

As the New York Times reports, as climate change caused the glacier to retreat, its waters have changed course. The glacier’s waters once flowed north to feed the Sims and Yukon rivers before discharging into the Bering Sea. But the water now flows south into the Alsek River, which empties into the Pacific Ocean.

One researcher who helped described this event in an article in the journal Nature Geoscience say the phenomenon, although unlikely to reoccur in such a dramatic way, goes to show that “we may be surprised by what climate change has in store for us – and some of the effects might be much more rapid than we are expecting.”

Russia Offers Online Tour of New Arctic Base

Russia touted this week the opening of its newest Arctic military base by offering an online tour. Dubbed the Arctic Trefoil for its three-pronged shape, the facility, located on the Franz Josef Land archipelago, is big enough to house 150 staff unsupported for 18 months.

As Newsweek reports, this is part of a broader effort by Russia to improve its military reach in the Arctic. A similar base was opened on Kotelny Island in 2015 and several others are in the works. The primary role of these bases is expected to be surveillance to help keep track of ship movements along Russia’s vast Arctic coast, although analysts expect these facilities will also feature anti-ship and anti-aircraft defenses.

The Cracks Are Beginning to Show

Satellite photos of one of Greenland’s biggest glaciers show an unexpected new crack that researchers worry may help trigger a massive break over the next few years. That’s significant, as the Petermann Glacier holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by about .3 meters (1ft).

As the Washington Post reports, the glacier has captured the world’s attention before, in 2010 and 2012, when it calved off several ice islands several times as large as Manhattan. And it may be set to do so again before long. Two cracks in the ice shelf look like they may soon meet up.

Unusually, one of these cracks is forming in the center of the ice shelf, leading some to wonder whether the ice is being warmed by the water beneath it. The cracks don’t appear to be growing right now, but researchers warn the ice sheet is slowly falling apart, and expect to see the cracks continue to widen this summer.

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