Fresh Water Pouring into Gulf of Alaska Not Necessarily Good News

by Vins
Published: Updated:

A study led by researchers at Oregon State University and published in the February 2015 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans found that glacier melt is adding 57 cubic kilometers of water to the Gulf of Alaska annually. As Jenna Iacurci of Nature World News writes, the freshwater input from glacier melt is “on top of the estimated 792 cubic kilometers produced by annual precipitation in this region.” One of the only other journalists covering the issue, Pakalolo of Daily Kos, wrote that “the combination of glacial melt and precipitation produce an amount of water that’s larger than many of the world’s great rivers, such as the Ganges, Nile, Volga, Niger, Columbia, Danube or Yellow River.”

What does that mean? Glacier movement and the melting of the world’s ice is currently a significant aspect of global warming. Southern Alaska’s land-based glaciers once terminated in the ocean; as they melt, retreating deeper inland, the resulting runoff means that the Gulf of Alaska accumulates “more water than is seen in some of the world’s great rivers.” The dumping of fresh water in the Gulf of Alaska will affect ocean temperature, marine biology, ocean currents, and sea levels, not to mention various other aspects of oceanography and marine life. There is also the issue of glacial sediment, which carries “glacial flour” such as iron from the bed of rivers such as the 286-mile-long Copper River.

It’s not yet known how exactly this runoff will change the ecosystems connected with the Gulf of Alaska, though researchers like ones at Oregon State University will likely be focusing on this important issue. Sediment-rich river water and water from the ocean do mix, contrary to popular opinion, but there are more and more instances of strong gradients between the two due to glacial melting. Collective drainage that is four times greater than that of the Yukon River is likely to make some drastic and lasting effects on the climate and ecology of the Gulf of Alaska.

Other than Nature World News, Daily Kos, and Science 2.0, there has been no significant media coverage of the Oregon State study and its findings. Not a single corporate media outlet found the story to be “newsworthy” enough to report.

Sources:

Jenna Iacurci, “Massive Glacier Melt Pouring into Gulf of Alaska,” Nature World News, March 21, 2015, http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/13616/20150321/massive-glacier-melt-pouring-into-gulf-of-alaska.htm.

Pakalolo, “Massive Glacier Melt and Fresh Water are Pouring into the Gulf of Alaska”, Daily Kos, March 31, 2015, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/03/31/1373930/-Massive-Glacier-Melt-and-Fresh-Water-are-Pouring-into-the-Gulf-of-Alaska

Student Researcher: Caitlin McCoy (College of Marin)

Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)