It turns out that melting glaciers can sequester carbon, according to UBC postdoctoral fellow's research paper

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Climate scientists are legitimately concerned about retreating glaciers on a warming planet.

      And there's been a great deal of alarm this summer about massive amounts of ice melting in Greenland.

      But a research paper published this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that some glacier-fed freshwater ecosystems are actually "significant" carbon sinks.

      The lead author is Kyra A. St. Pierre, a UBC postdoctoral fellow. She specializes in carbon and nutrient cycles at the interface of freshwater and ocean environments and is presently conducting research for the Hakai Institute's watershed program.

      Looking at the Lake Hazen watershed in Nunavut, St. Pierre and the other researchers determined that glacial rivers consumed carbon dioxide up to 42 kilometres downstream of glaciers.

      Lake Hazen on northern Ellesmere Island has been called Canada's northernmost lake. However, there are smaller lakes even farther north.

      It's certainly the largest lake by volume north of the Arctic Circle.

      "In conjunction with data collected at other proglacial freshwater sites in Greenland and the Canadian Rockies, we suggest that CO2consumption in proglacial freshwaters due to glacial melt-enhanced weathering is likely a globally relevant phenomenon, with potentially important implications for regional annual carbon budgets in glacierized watersheds," the researchers wrote.

      According to the paper, glacial river systems consume so much carbon dioxide because the meltwaters transport reactive sediments.

      St. Pierre and the other researchers noted that these sediments are prone to chemical-weathering reactions. They can consume atmospheric carbon dioxide.

      Of course, if climate change results in the disappearance of a glacier, there is no longer any glacial meltwater to carry these sediments. So it doesn't mean the public should relax and forget about the threat of rising greenhouse gas emissions.

      The recent research paper caught the attention of Wired climate journalist Matt Simon.

      He pointed out that in the melting season, these glacial rivers consume twice as much carbon dioxide per square metre than the Amazon rainforest.

      Simon acknowledged that the Amazon is a far larger region, so in sum, it still absorbs far more carbon dioxide than glacial river systems in the Arctic.

      Not only that, but the Amazon is currently being ravaged by wildfires, emitting enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

      The number of fires is about 35 percent higher in the first eight months of this year than the average for each year since 2010.

      This ecological crisis has given rise to the hashtag #PrayForAmazonas.