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Melting Glaciers Do More Than Just Raise Sea Levels, They Also Carry Surprising Cargo

Source: Hakai Magazine/Amorina Kingdon - March 12, 2018 in Environment

Melting Glaciers Do More Than Just Raise Sea Levels, They Also Carry Surprising Cargo
Photo: Torsten Dederichs/Unsplash

Novels and blockbuster movies that tackle climate change gravitate toward the dramatic, especially when it comes to melting ice. In these stories, mountainous glaciers crumble and cities flood as the sea rises. But a lot more happens in between the mountains and the sea, as meltwater passes through the liminal space of the coast. Here are five ways the slow, non-dramatic drip of melting ice changes our coastlines and oceans.

Released Toxins

Glaciers, like many venerable objects, can act as time capsules. Like a dusty vinyl record holds an era’s songs, ice holds very old molecules—not just the H2O of snow, but traces of airborne particles like dust, ash, and chemicals that hitched a ride on falling flakes. In the Antarctic, Adélie penguins harbor consistent levels of the pesticide DDT even though it’s been widely banned since the 1970s. The source: glacier meltwater that trickles past the penguins on its way to the sea, eventually making its way into the penguins’ food webs.

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