OTTAWA (Reuters) - The incredibly rapid rate at which Canada's Arctic ice shelves are disappearing is an early indicator of the "very substantial changes" that global warming will impose on all mankind, a top scientist said on Wednesday.
Researchers announced late on Tuesday that the five ice shelves along Ellesmere Island in the Far North, which are more than 4,000 years old, had shrunk by 23 percent this summer alone.
The largest shelf is disintegrating and one of the smaller shelves, covering 19 square miles (55 square km), broke away entirely last month.
"Climate models indicate that the greatest changes, the most severe changes, will happen earliest in the highest northern latitudes," said Warwick Vincent, director of the Centre for Northern Studies at Laval University in Quebec.
"This will be the starting point for more substantial changes throughout the rest of the planet.... Our indicators are showing us exactly what the climate models predict," he told Reuters in an interview.
Global warming is forecast to generate more damaging weather extremes such as hurricanes, cyclones and floods.
Vincent, who has visited the ice shelves along Ellesmere Island every year for the past 10 years, said the impact of higher temperatures this year was "staggering".
His team had estimated that the shelves would lose eight square miles this summer. The true figure was 83 square miles.
"What was extraordinary was just the vast quantity of open water ... you could see open water to the horizon in an area that is typically ice-covered throughout the season," he said...