5-5-17 River Piracy

Happy Cinco de Mayo, when many Americans commemorate the Mexican Republic’s victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Puebla) by getting blackout drunk. Viva la hangover.

My father was an engineering geologist. I grew up learning about landforms and rocks and how (over a VERY long time) they change, so I find these things interesting in ways that others may not. And it isn’t often that non-volcanic geology makes the news, so I tend to notice when it does.

In the United States, the Continental Divide (water on the east side of the Rocky Mountains flows to the Atlantic; water on the west flows to the Pacific) lies well inland from the coasts. In Canada, it’s MUCH closer to the Pacific (actually, Canada is split three ways: Atlantic, Pacific, and a good portion of Canadian waters flow to the Arctic Ocean, also). Throughout recorded history, meltwater from the Kaskawulsh Glacier hit the base of Vulcan Mountain and split into two: roughly 2/3 into the Slims River, thence to Kluane Lake, and on to the Arctic Ocean; and 1/3 into the Kaskawulsh River, thence to the Alsek River, and on to the Pacific. In 2016, ice collapse and rapid melting along the glacier’s leading edge scoured a new channel that has captured nearly all of the glacier’s runoff (a recent article on this event from the New York Times http://nyti.ms/2phQutm). Now, 95%-plus of the water flowing down from the Kaskawulsh Glacier (still among Canada’s largest) flows into the Kaskawulsh River, leaving the Slims River valley prone to dust-storms of the kind you might normally find in a desert.

Now, river capture, or river piracy, of this kind isn’t uncommon–but the speed of this particular transformation is. Usually, the divide between watercourses is eroded slowly–as in tens-of-thousands-to-millions-of-years-slowly–and the capture is gradual. Not here. 2015, situation normal; 2016, one large river dries up while another more than doubles in volume. I presume this will significantly lower Kluane Lake, as well as impact navigation, riverside development, and any fisheries along the Kaskawulsh/Alsek watershed.

And weather-related events like this are happening elsewhere, too: in Greenland and Antarctica, of course; Glacier National Park in Montana has lost nearly all of its namesake icefields; and China may soon be facing droughts due to retreating Himalayan glaciers.

What does it all mean? Don’t know. Guess I could stop driving a car, but that’s impractical and unless 2+ billion others decide to do the same thing, it’s hard to see how it’d matter. Shame on me. I’d like to think innovators are working on technologies that will let us stick around and have our glaciers, too, but who knows? More than likely they’re just busy building some version of Elysium (Elysium on imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1535108/?ref_=nv_sr_1) instead, so they can board Space X rockets and leave all the riffraff behind.

Last month I received a pitch for an obnoxious goldbug/global financial collapse/survivalist newsletter (not sure how I ended up on that mailing list. How’s this for bullshit? Among lots else, the guy says debt and credit cards are Satan’s tools meant to ensnare the weak and unwary, yet how does he want you to pay him? That’s right: with a credit card), and the author claimed he was dictating his “important message” from his off-the-grid ranch in Patagonia, but he and his ilk would be wise to consider that global climate change is, by definition, global, and there won’t be enough safe, well-watered places to escape to unless we get our collective act in gear. The climate goes to pieces, then all the guns and gold in Argentina won’t help, and according to events in Kluane National Park, something’s afoot.

 

2017-06-01T04:15:35+00:00 May 5th, 2017|Hiking/Outdoors, Writing|0 Comments

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