This Canadian River Just Started Moving in the Wrong Direction Due to Climate Change

Apr 19, 2017 12:28 PM EDT

Another unexpected consequence of the rapidly changing climate: a river has suddenly vanished in Canada as the water heads in the opposite direction of its usual route.

According to a report from Popular Mechanics, the phenomenon is called "river piracy," and while it is usually a major geological event, climate change has caused it to occur in the Canada's Yukon territory in a span of four days.

The 15,000-square-mile Kaskawulsh Glacier carries water into two rivers, Kaskawulsh River and Slims River. As the temperature increased, the massive glacier retreated so far back that the lake that used to feed water into the Slims River switched its outlet and ceased pouring into the river. Instead, it only feeds Kaskawulsh River now.

"For the last 300 years, Slims River flowed out to the Bering Sea, and the smaller Kaskawulsh River flowed to the Gulf of Alaska," lead author Dan Shugar of the University of Washington Tacoma said in a statement. "What we found was the glacial lake that fed Slims River had actually changed its outlet. A 30-meter (100-foot) canyon had been carved through the terminus of the glacier. Meltwater was flowing through that canyon from one lake into another glacial lake, almost like when you see champagne poured into glasses that are stacked in a pyramid."

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Shugar and his team visited the Slims River in August 2016 and were shocked to find the river virtually gone. The researchers observed barely any flow and said that they could see the water level dropping daily.

"Geologists have seen river piracy, but nobody to our knowledge has documented it happening in our lifetimes," Shugar said.

Fellow author John Clague of the Simon Fraser University in Canada attributed the fast-tracked phenomenon to climate change, saying that the planet's glaciers are becoming significantly smaller due to the rising temperatures.

The study is published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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