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Apr 18, 2017 01:59 PM EDT

Human-Caused Climate Change Reroutes An Entire River For The First Time Ever [Video]

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Yukon River
The warm spring triggers massive flooding in Alaska. This year, global warming caused a glacier to break and the stream of melting ice reroutes an entire Yukon River.
(Photo : Photo by Alaska State Troopers via Getty Image)

On Monday, a group of scientists documented what appears to be the first case of a large-scale river rerouting due to human-induced climate change in modern times. It has reversed the flow of the water melting from a glacier in Canada's Yukon Territory, a process scientists call as "river privacy".

According to the New York Times, the term refers to one river capturing and diverting the flow of another. While it is a normal process in the natural world, it usually takes thousands of years to develop. Apparently, the latest "river privacy" occurrence in the Yukon Territory took place in just a few months last year.

To further illustrate, the melting of the sea ice in the said area caused the retreat of a very large glacier in Canada. It then resulted in a massive stream of meltwater that "immediately" rerouted from one river system to another. The force of the stream cut down the flow of freshwater to Yukon's largest lake, Kluane. For one, the river channeled its way to the Pacific Ocean rather than to the Bering Sea.

Daniel Shugar, the lead author from the University of Washington, Tacoma, said that the river was not what people have seen a few years ago. Due to the loss of flow brought by the glacial change, the river was previously barely flowing and it was already slowly dying. Shugar said that the water level was dropping every day and sandbars are popping out one after another.

Per Chicago Tribune, the choked fresh water system was the Slims River. It was previously connected to Kluane Lake, which also suffered record-low levels in August. Consequently, the two small communities that live on the lake have to adjust to the lack of supply. The stream of melting water that cut a canyon through the ice diverted more flow to the Alsek River.

For its part, the Alsek River is known for its white-water rafting activities. The increased volume of flow then resulted to higher currents than normal. The Alsek River empties into the Gulf of Alaska, which is probably seeing a new infusion of freshwater.

As global warming causes more glaciers to melt, Shugar said that people may witness more river rerouting. This change in path actually has huge consequences for the landscape and ecosystems. The expert ended with a precautionary statement saying "mankind may be surprised" by what climate change has in store for us.

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