How a Rover vanished in just 4 days

The discovery of the Slims River diversion away from the Bering Sea into the Kaskawulsh River was published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

By Zee Media Bureau | Last Updated: Apr 19, 2017, 16:40 PM IST
How a Rover vanished in just 4 days
Image credit: Dan Shugar/University of Washington Tacoma

New Delhi: Sounds unbelievable, but scientists have revealed that a melting glacier in northwest Canada has caused a river to completely change course last year.

The findings reveal the dramatic impact of climate change on the geographical distribution of the world.

 

Describing the phenomenon as the first modern case of climate change 'river piracy', scientists said the 'abruptly and radically' altered drainage from the Kaskawulsh Glacier spring melt sent the Slims River in the opposite direction into the Pacific Ocean, 1,300 kilometers away from where the mouth of the river used to be.

The discovery of the Slims River diversion away from the Bering Sea into the Kaskawulsh River was published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Gerard Roe, co-author of the study and a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle in the US state of Washington, told AFP that the Slims riverbed had dried up in only four days.

"The habitat was altered," he said in a telephone interview. "The chemistry and biology of the water changed dramatically."

Last August, researchers led by Canadian geomorphologist Daniel Shugar of the University of Washington in Tacoma had traveled to Canada's northern Yukon Territory to study the river's currents, but it was gone.

They traced its mysterious disappearance to the Slims River's headwaters, where they found a glacial barrier that once routed its flow northward into the Bering Sea had been breached in the spring.

Prof Shugar and his team used computer models to show the fast glacier melt - and the subsequent river diversion - was due to global climate change, and not natural temperature fluctuations over centuries.

Such changes, they warned in the study, can have "profound downstream impacts" on ecosystems and communities that rely on the discharge.

Last summer, for example, Kluane Lake, which was fed by the Slims River, dropped a full meter below its lowest recorded level for that time of year.

Another research team member, John Clague of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, said the discovery highlights that while people view climate change as a gradual process, its effects may not be.

"To me, it's kind of a metaphor for what can happen with sudden change induced by climate," he told the daily Globe and Mail.

The study noted that the change in the river's flow affected the whole landscape.

In the big picture, the piracy of the Slims is a reminder that climate change "may bring surprises that we are not appreciating fully and that we're not necessarily prepared for", added Prof Shugar.

(With AFP inputs)