UNBC re­searcher mea­sures glacier change in Columbia River basin

The Prince George Citizen - - Local - Cit­i­zen staff

For Ben Pelto, glaciers have be­come a sec­ond home.

The PhD can­di­date in the ge­og­ra­phy pro­gram at the Univer­sity of North­ern Bri­tish Columbia led a team that has spent close to 250 days in the field mea­sur­ing the growth and con­trac­tion of six glaciers in the Columbia River basin.

Over 11 sea­sons, the team of 40 vol­un­teers vis­ited the glaciers twice per year to gauge win­ter snow­fall and sum­mer snow and ice melt.

They also used an air­borne laser scan­ner to pro­duce de­tailed maps, and cap­tured 100 glaciers per sea­son.

The Pelto team’s es­ti­mates of glacier mass change from both the aerial sur­vey­ing and field mea­sure­ments aligned with the re­sults, re­veal­ing that this type of study can be scaled up to a larger glacier sam­ple.

“We are pro­vid­ing the first large dataset of sea­sonal glacier mass change for the Canadian Columbia River basin,” Pelto said. “These es­ti­mates are valuable as cal­i­bra­tion and val­i­da­tion data for glacier mod­els, bet­ter al­low­ing us to pre­dict fu­ture glacier re­sponse to cli­mate change and runoff from these glaciers as they con­tinue to shrink.”

The Columbia River basin re­ceives runoff from 2,200 glaciers, yet es­ti­mates of their changes were un­mea­sured un­til now, ac­cord­ing to Pelto.

“Know­ing how much glaciers con­trib­ute to stream­flow to­day is im­por­tant for un­der­stand­ing how the ecosys­tems they sup­port, and ser­vices they pro­vide, will fare when the glaciers are gone or greatly re­duced in size,” he said.

The study builds on an ear­lier re­search project led by Pelto’s PhD su­per­vi­sor, Brian Me­nounos, who is a UNBC ge­og­ra­phy pro­fes­sor and Canada Re­search Chair in Glacier Change.

That study, re­leased in Jan­uary of 2019 in Geo­phys­i­cal Re­search Let­ters, used satel­lite im­ages over the past 20 years to track glacier mass change in Western North Amer­ica.

The re­sults of the Pelto team’s field study were re­cently pub­lished on­line in The Cryosphere, an in­ter­ac­tive ope­nac­cess jour­nal of the Euro­pean Geo­sciences Union.

HAND­OUT PHOTO BY JILL PELTO

Ben Pelto and vol­un­teers cut sam­ples from a snow core to mea­sure the den­sity of the snow­pack on the Koka­nee Glacier in April 2016.

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