" April 18, 2017 —Last August, a small group of scientists set out for some routine fieldwork at Slims River, which feeds Kluane Lake, the largest glacially fed body of water in northwest Canada's Yukon Territory.
When they arrived at the site of the fieldwork, however, the 15-mile long river had all but vanished, with only a thin trickle of water remaining where 10-foot depths had been common only a month before. The scientists reviewed satellite data and other measurements and found that the river had vanished over a stunningly fast four days – between May 26 and 29 – in an unprecedented modern example of a geological phenomenon known as "river piracy."
The scientists determined that the climate-change related receding of the Kaskawulsh Glacier, the source of Slims River, was responsible for the sudden disappearance. In a study released Tuesday, the researchers noted that the glacier had shrunk to a point where its water was entirely redirected towards the Kaskawulsh River, which was usually fed by the glacier along with Slims.
"River piracy in this context means one river taking water from another in some unplanned sort of way," Mark Davis, senior research fellow and director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy in New Orleans, tells The Christian Science Monitor via email. "It is a metaphor," he adds.
Mr. Davis tells the Monitor that this kind of sudden shift is probably not unprecedented, since glaciers and rivers are naturally dynamic, responding to the ebb and flow of weather patterns and temperatures.
Still, the disappearance of a whole river in less than a week took the researchers by surprise..."