Kluane – river piracy and lake changes

BREAKING: New paper published in Nature Geoscience documents the disappearance of the Slims River due to climate change. Our work on this phenomenon is the first to show a ‘river piracy’ occurring in modern times. Media attention includes New York TimesWashington PostGuardianGlobe & MailCBCPopular ScienceChicago TribuneScience NewsPhys.org and others.

Glacier-fed Kluane Lake, the largest lake in the Yukon, has undergone significant hydrological changes in the past 1000 years. The most dramatic followed the Little Ice Age advance of Kaskawalsh Glacier, which blocked the southerly outlet of the lake out the Slims River, causing the lake to rise 12 m and incise a new drainage to the north. The high suspended sediment load in the Slims River generates continuous turbidity currents and upstream-migrating sediment waves on the delta, which is currently prograding north 48 m a-1 into Kluane Lake. To date, few accounts of sediment waves associated with proglacial lacustrine deltas have been published.

Turbidity current at Kluane Lake, Yukon (photo Francis Gauthier, UQAR)
Multbeam echosounding bathymetric map of Slims River delta, Kluane Lake, Yukon
Collecting aDcp data, Kluane Lake, Yukon
Satellite view of seasonal changes in the Slims River

I am working with a broad range of scientists from the US, Canada, and the UK on a series of projects at Kluane Lake. These include a study of the modern sedimentary dynamics at the Slims River delta; Holocene lake-level fluctuations; the geomorphic response of the Slims River to seasonal variations in discharge as a function of Kaskawulsh Glacier melt; and landslides on the steep mountains  at the south end of the Lake.

Shugar, D.H., Clague, J.J., Best, J.L., Schoof, C., Willis, M.J., Copland, L., and Roe, G.H, 2017. River piracy and drainage basin reorganization led by climate-driven glacier retreatNature Geoscience, 10: 370-375. LINK

SHUGAR, D.H., 2014. Bathymetric and geophysical surveys of the southern end of Kluane Lake, Yukon. In: MacFarlane, K.E., Nordling, M.G., and Sack, P.J. (Eds.), Yukon Exploration and Geology 2013, pp. 221-231.