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An Entire River In Canada Disappeared In Just Four Days Because of River Piracy

An Entire River In Canada Disappeared In Just Four Days Because of River Piracy

An Entire River In Canada Disappeared In Just Four Days Because of River Piracy
An Entire River In Canada Disappeared In Just Four Days Because of River Piracy

For the first time in recorded history, an entire river disappeared. Not only that but it did so in just four days. How is this possible? Well, the phenomenon does have a name and it’s known as river piracy, among a few others. This is when one river’s flow is taken over by another for whatever reason. But while in most cases it takes many years, probably even centuries or millennia to happen, this time, however, it took it just four days.

What happened was that the Slims River, located in Canada’s NW Yukon Territories, ran out of water in a timeframe called by scientists as: “geologically instantaneous and… likely to be permanent”. Well, to be fair, the water didn’t simply disappear, but it changed direction and is now flowing somewhere else.

Being a remote region, the discovery was made mostly by accident as geoscientist Dan Shugar from the University of Washington Tacoma and his team travelled there to conduct some fieldwork, only to come across this emptied river which had a previous 480 metres (1,575 feet) wide flow. When they took the helicopter upstream and see what the cause of the event was, they found it.

As it turns out, for the past three or four centuries, the river was being supplied by the Kaskawulsh Glacier. But as the glacier was shrinking, the excess water punched a hole in the ice in a different direction and it began flowing through there. Now, instead of going down the Slims River and ending up in the Bering Sea, the water goes via the Kaskawulsh River all the way to the Pacific.

“[T]here was barely any flow whatsoever. It was essentially a long, skinny lake,” says Shugar.

“The water was somewhat treacherous to approach because you’re walking on these old river sediments that were really goopy and would suck you in. And day by day we could see the water level dropping.”

The river piracy event didn’t take place right before their eyes, however, but based on the finding there, they were able to deduce that it happened extremely quickly in between the 26th and 29th of May, 2016.

As we said before, river piracy has happened before in the past, but this time things are special. For starters, geologists didn’t believe that it could happen as fast as it did and that it was an indirect cause of human activity through climate change.

“The event is a bit idiosyncratic, given the peculiar geographic situation in which it happened,” says one of the team, John Clague from Canada’s Simon Fraser University, “but in a broader sense it highlights the huge changes that glaciers are undergoing around the world due to climate change.”

Given the fact that the area is sparsely populated, it is easy to disregard this river piracy event. But this shouldn’t be taken lightly, however, as the effects will most likely not stop here. For starters, the ecosystem that surrounded the now extinct river will most likely change. Next, the new water going down the new river, which may have a different chemical composition since it is from a glacier, will affect the new route, as well as the river mouth.

“So far, a lot of the scientific work surrounding glaciers and climate change has been focused on sea-level rise,” Shugar explains in a press release. “Our study shows there may be other under-appreciated, unanticipated effects of glacial retreat.”