While everyone understands that our climate is changing, we don’t always know how it is affecting our environment and what it means for our communities.
This week a team of researchers from the University of Northern BC is on Kokanee Glacier to determine how much snow accumulated over the past winter compared to how much ice melted in the past year.
The five-year study is funded by the Columbia Basin Trust.
Glaciers are one of Canada’s important natural resources, releasing cool plentiful water to mountain streams when seasonal snowpack is depleted. This runoff is important for the safe operation of many local communities and aquatic ecosystems.
PhD student Ben Pelto is heading up the research team under direction of Dr. Brian Menounos, a Canada research chair in glacier change.
“Kokanee is the southernmost glacier in the Columbia region so it is particularly sensitive to climate change,” explained Pelto. “In each year of our study, Kokanee glacier has lost mass or gotten smaller.”
Of the two ingredients which determine glacier health, melt and snowpack, melt is the dominant factor. Hotter, longer summers and earlier springs are leading to increased melt, and it takes well above average snowpack to simply break even, or not lose mass, for glaciers like the Kokanee.
For the past three years, L.V. Rogers student Micah May has been a volunteer member of the team on their twice-a-year field trips. Having travelled to the Arctic and seen the impacts of climate change, May was curious what glaciers could tell us about the health of local ecosystems.
“Glaciers give us early warnings about fundamental changes that are taking place,” said May. “To witness such significant change over a short period of time is humbling, but I am glad to be part of this.”
Pelto will share the story of Kokanee Glacier at this weekend’s water, drought and climate change forum. Pelto and May will also be interviewed for Kootenay Co-Op Radio’s Climate of Change program.
“Our communities need to understand what the changes to our glaciers mean for our future,” said May. “It helps us understand what it might take to slow the rate of change and prepare for what is to come.”
Above left: L.V. Rogers student Micah May helps PhD student Ben Pelto climb out of a pit dug on Kokanee Glacier during last year’s spring research trip to study the impacts of climate change.