Column: Disappearing glaciers should be cause for concern

Murmurs among scientists are that, with the rapid thawing of the world’s icy regions, glaciers are likely at a tipping point

What would B.C. Place Stadium look like if you filled it with water? OK, now empty it. Then fill it up again 8,300 times. This’ll take a while. You will need 22 billion cubic metres of water to get the job done. That’s easy. Because that’s the same amount of water that British Columbia’s 17,000 glaciers are permanently losing every year.

That staggering stat is causing serious concern among researchers from the University of Northern British Columbia, universities in Alberta and Washington State and scientists with the federal government who have all collaborated on a major study of the current state and the future fate of glaciers in British Columbia and Alberta.

Glaciers cover three per cent of our province’s land mass. Between 1985 and 1999 the annual amount of water lost from melting glaciers in B.C. was 22 cubic kilometres. The largest glacier entirely in B.C. is the Klinaklini Glacier with an area of 470 square kilometres. This rapid meltwater loss has huge implications for BC Hydro given that close to 90 per cent of B.C.’s energy is hydroelectric with melting snow and ice playing a significant role.

“Glaciers are sensitive indicators of climate, but they are also among western Canada’s most important freshwater resources,” said Dr. Brian Menounos, a UNBC Geography professor who has been leading the research program. “This project is allowing us to calculate the number and total area of glaciers in B.C. and Alberta. Even more importantly, we are able to assess – for the first time – how quickly these glaciers are melting in the current climate.”

The focus of the study has been on the Lloyd George Icefield west of Fort Nelson, Castle Creek Glacier near McBride, Klinaklini and Tiedemann glaciers in the Coast Mountains, and glaciers in the Columbia River Basin.

The research has been underway for several years and, at each glacial site, meteorological measurements such as air temperature, wind speed, precipitation, and humidity have been taken to understand what controls these glaciers and contributes to their melt. They are also measuring thickness, extent, volume and movement.

At Castle Creek Glacier, significant research has focused on the ice sheet’s retreat and the ridges of rock and earth, called moraines, left behind. They are like tree rings and extend 750 metres into the valley from the glacier’s edge, giving a geological history of its annual demise over the past half century.

Alberta has 800 glaciers and one of the most visited is the Athabasca Glacier that forms part of the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park. But a news release this week said that the glacier is melting at an astonishing rate of five metres a year. In the past twenty years, it has shrunk from 325 square kilometres to 222 square kilometres.

And the melting track record repeats itself throughout the world’s 200,000 glaciers.

All this rapid melting of B.C.’s glaciers and elsewhere has managed to pour its way onto the pages of this month’s U.S. National Climate Assessment. The red flags of global warming triggering the melt will wash up on our feet as sea levels rise, ocean circulation patterns change further changing climate, fisheries numbers decline or shift migration patterns, and hydropower production becomes compromised or ceases altogether when rain can’t replace the volume of annual spring meltwater with huge implications on water supply and agriculture.

Menounos predicts that even a 40 cm rise in sea level will cause flooding that could affect 100 million people.

Murmurs among scientists are that, with the rapid thawing of the world’s icy regions, glaciers are likely at a tipping point, a point of no return whereby the rapid melting accelerates rapid melting until they are gone.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia’s (CFSEU-BC) Uniform Gang Enforcement Team (UGET) has arrested a man who was on the run for nearly a decade. (File photo)
9-year search for international drug trafficking suspect ends with arrest at YVR

Khamla Wong, charged in 2012, taken into custody Feb. 24 by BC-CFSEU

The Great Bear Snowshed on the Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) in British Columbia. Truck driver Roy McCormack testified in BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack on Feb. 25, 2021 that his brakes started smoking in about this location, and soon after he lost all braking, which led to a multi-vehicle crash further down the road on Aug. 5, 2016. (GoogleMaps)
Truck driver charged with criminal negligence in Coquihalla crash is accused of ignoring smoking brakes

Just before crashing the smoking truck was seen entering Zopkios brake check and leaving shortly after

Shaelene Keeler Bell. (Facebook)
Candlelight vigil Saturday for missing Chilliwack mother

Virtual event to ‘spread some light’ for 23-year-old Shaelene Bell of Chilliwack

Becky Miller, and her daughters Aurora, 5, and Alice, 2, getting the truck ready to help the St. Paul’s Dump Runners fundraiser Feb. 27, 28, March 1 and 2. (Becky Miller)
St. Paul’s Dump Runners of Chilliwack ready to pick up odds and ends for a cause

For a donation to the Nicaragua Feed the Children Fund volunteers haul stuff to the dump

(File Photo)
Crash causes delays on Coquihalla southbound, travel advisory issued

A vehicle incident between Merrit and Hope has caused major delays heading south

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

Canada approves use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine

The country joins more than a dozen other countries that have given the shot the green light

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Carolyn Howe, a kindergarten teacher and vice president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, says educators are feeling the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the influx of pressure that comes with it. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Stress leave, tears and insomnia: Island teachers feel the strain of COVID-19

Teachers still adjusting to mask and cleaning rules, pressures from outside and within

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

Head of internal medicine at Chilliwack General Hospital Dr. Shari Sajjadi talks about the positive feedback hospital staff have received over this last year in the latest YouTube video about COVID-19 created in partnership with the Chilliwack Division of Family Practice and the Chilliwack Economic Recovery Network. (YouTube)
VIDEO: Dr. Shari Sajjadi says a simple ‘thank you’ helps keep up spirits of healthcare workers

‘We are so thankful for the positive feedback we are getting from our patients’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Most Read