A recently published study offers insight into a rare case of “river piracy”. This term is used to described the phenomenon of one river flow taking over another’s. Rare in itself, evidence has shown that the phenomenon usually takes place over some hundreds of years. However, this modern day “piracy” occurred over just 4 days.
According to a team of researchers studying the event, this timeframe is “geologically instantaneous and … likely to be permanent.”
Research results were published in the Nature Geoscience journal. The study targeted the Slims River flowing in Yukon. In August 2016, Dan Shugar, a geoscientist at the University of Tacoma, and his fellow researchers carried out a fieldwork expedition in the area.
As they arrived, they noted that the Slims was ‘all but gone’. Usually, this river had a median flow of 1,575 feet. However, now there was “barely any flow whatsoever”. As such, the team turned to the river gauges for answers. These indicated that, in between May 26th and 29th 2016, the river’s water levels had registered a sharp drop.
To determine the location of the missing water, the team surveyed the region with help from both drones and a helicopter. As they did so, the river piracy and the culprit reportedly became apparent.
This Modern-Day River Piracy Took Place In Just 4 Days
The Slims River has been fed over the last 300 to 350 years by the Kaskawulsh Glacier’s north-running meltwaters, one of Canada’s largest such ice formations. However, over these past years, the glacier has been retreating due to the warming weather.
As such, the meltwater flow created a new channel in the ice, which changes their course southwards. Now, the meltwaters are passing through the Kaskawulsh River on their way to the Pacific Ocean.
“Geologists have seen river piracy, but nobody to our knowledge has documented it happening in our lifetimes.” This is according to Dan Shugar.
According to the team, this is the first record of such an event taking place so fast, over just 4 days. They also consider that the rerouting will most likely have “huge” consequences on the natural ecosystem. It could also potentially affect the local water sources.
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