The glaciers are melting. That’s the old news. The update is that, in Alaska, there has also been a massive amount of rainfall. The combination of rain and glacial melt create a flow of freshwater that is doing what water does: flowing down to sea level. Right now, the water is flowing toward the gulf in many small streams but, because this is happening in such a small area of land on the Gulf of Alaska, it’s possible that the streams will join into one larger moving body of water. If that happens, a new coastal river would be born and, reportedly, it would be the world’s sixth largest of its kind.

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Researchers have been at work studying the glacial melt for years. With the added rains, thousands of tiny streams have begun to flow toward the gulf. Because of their small size, the totality of the runoff problem went largely unnoticed. That is to say that scientists had a tough time even figuring out how much water was involved. New research, though, has put more precise measurements on the flow, and helped put its magnitude into perspective. Apparently, it’s much worse than originally feared.

Related: The glaciers of Glacier National Park may all disappear by 2030

The new research indicates that the amount of runoff in this coastal region of Alaska, despite not being a cohesive river (yet), is now equivalent to half the flow of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi collects freshwater from 31 states over a landmass more than six times as large as this effected area of Alaska, making the concentration of fresh water discharge astronomically higher for the last frontier.

“Freshwater runoff of this magnitude can influence marine biology, nearshore oceanographic studies of temperature and salinity, ocean currents, sea level and other issues,” David Hill, lead author of the research and an associate professor in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, as told to

The new study was published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, by Hill and Anthony Arendt at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. The study was supported by the North Pacific Research Board. Right now, researchers are focused on understanding the “what” in this equation, but the “why” is already largely accepted within the scientific community: global warming, of course.


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